Monday, February 22, 2010

The Communist Manifesto: Summary and Analysis (and origin of "Progressives?")

I finally read the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.  Having read several commentaries on Marxism I felt it time to read the actual Manifesto.  Considering the nexus of all communist ideology is the Communist Manifesto, and given the vast number of its "followers," I prepared myself for a deeply intellectual assault on my capitalist ideals.  Surely, the bastion of all communism would be based upon solid reasoning, keen economic knowledge, and adept sociology...right?  Let's just say I was grossly over-prepared.

For those more accustomed to Twitter than Tolstoy, I will provide my synopsis in two sections: one short, the Summary; one long, the Analysis. 

Summary:  The Communist Manifesto is a sophomoric, ill written brochure with a few valid, but overtly generic, observations overwhelmed by a multitude of ignorant ideas concocted by the intellectual equivalent of a petulant schoolboy.

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Analysis: 

1)  The most illogical notion of Marxism has only been further revealed for its idiocy through reading this original manuscript - the idea that a Worldwide amalgamation of "workers," a.k.a. the Proletariat, will rise up against the "evil" Bourgeoisie, preside over the masses in a new form of government, and eventually unleash the utopia of true Communism.  I certainly don't contest that a large group (although never Worldwide) could rise up, pretend to represent the working class, and affect political change; however, to assert that it would instill an improved form of government is asinine.  The primary motivating contention of Marx and Engels is that class warfare, or "antagonisms," is the impetus behind any such provocation of the Proletariat.  But what would any form of government, new or otherwise, require?  Leadership.  Simple logic, not to mention ample history, reveals that a government will establish a separate class - the ruling class.  

Absent a wealthy class - because the Bourgeoisie would be overthrown by the Proletariat - the only classes remaining would be the rulers and the non-rulers.  In a communist form of government, the people, i.e. the "commune," control the means of production (NOTE: this is a poorly defined economic concept that Marx and Engels inaccurately try to develop in later writings).  Regardless of how the government officials are selected for their positions, they would be responsible for determining the division of provisions and means of production.  This gives the communist political leaders far more power than the so-called Bourgeoisie wherein means of production are diversified across thousands of people, many of whom have no real political authority.  A mere glimpse at the authoritarian rule of communists in all levels of government within the U.S.S.R., China, North Korea, and Cuba is ample proof.  

Marx and Marxian philosophers somehow miss or dismiss this point.  In the case of Marx and Engels, it may be that they simply never asked, "Then what?"  "We overthrow the capitalists, set up our new government, and then what?"  More modern Marxists do not have the luxury of whimsically dreaming up global takeovers without any real consequences - they have to contend with the reality of failed, or failing, communist states.  Not quick to realize their inherent folly, they often attribute such failures to A) the oppressive economic sanctions imposed by other nations, namely the U.S.A. (i.e. that silly capitalist country that prospered) or B) they legitimize their Marx-mania by asserting the leaders of these "great" nations weren't true Marxists and they didn't understand Marx correctly.  Oh they understood him perfectly...and I rest my case.

2)  Marxists also fail to comprehend the human psyche.  Yes, workers may be willing to rise up against their "oppressors."  Yes, they may want to form unions and political parties.  But why?  Because they want to commune in eternal brotherhood sharing their hard earned money with everyone else?  Not a chance.  The motivation behind such actions is the same selfishness the Communist Manifesto attributes to the profit mongering capitalists.  Would any worker join a union if he didn't believe it would improve his income and benefits?  Unionization is done purely for financial gain.  This is the very same motivation that ensures my first point will always be true.  There will never be a Utopian society of commune-ists because the opportunistic profit motive lives in all of us and ensures power will be wielded whenever possible.  Therefore, a society will always contain profit and/or power maximizing individualism.  For true Marxist Communism to exist would require every individual to willfully submit to the collective.  Doing so is not normal for the vast majority of people; therefore, any attempt towards communism requires a political body to enforce the required collectivism.  Hence, a powerful political class has formed in all "communist" countries in an attempt to alter the natural sociological characteristics of humans.  This is also why Utopian Communism, as defined in the Communist Manifesto, can never be realized.  Ironically, egocentric individualism is the part of the human psyche that makes capitalism work so well.

Of course, Marx said it best when he wrote in the Manifesto, "The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class..."  Thank you Dr. Marx for, once again, making my point for me.

3)  Marx and Engels were correct that capitalism would suffer from periodic failures - this is one of those overtly generic observations I referred to in the summary.  Capitalists refer to these events as corrections.  They may be short, long, unnoticeable, or devastating, but they are necessary shocks for renewing and revitalizing economies.  In the USA, history has further revealed that these events are best dealt with via minimal government intervention.  Therefore, I will relent to Marxists that capitalism does suffer periodic, even devastating, shocks.  That would be in comparison to only one devastating economic shock occurring under communism... it begins when communism begins and ends only when communism ends.

4)  In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels lament the bygone days of feudal society, although it would be a stretch to say that either of them actually experienced life during those times.  In the Manifesto, and purportedly in Marx's Capital, Marx decries capitalism for its advances in technology of both communication and productivity.  The motley duo claim that capitalism has reduced workers, i.e. not Bourgeoisie, to mere sources of labor.   Because of such advances as railroads (keep in mind it was first published in 1847) and large business entities, the Bourgeoisie are evidently able to take advantage of workers owing to the competition among laborers.  Further that the difference in price of the goods sold less cost of labor is the source of profits for the capitalists thereby motivating the Bourgeoisie to keep asunder the working class.  Therefore, the authors reason feudal times must have been much better for the lowest classes because they were not considered a labor commodity - forced to sell their labor for a mere pittance, barely enough to survive.

I wonder what these Communists might have thought of feudal society had they actually been alive for much, or any, of it?  More notably, their line of reasoning shows their economic naivete.  To assume people did not sell their labor during feudal times is to confuse the concept entirely.  Take for example a tailor.  Although it may seem a tailor working independently is not selling his labor by contrast to an individual working in a large garment factory - the difference is not as compelling as Marx portends.  The independent tailor is, in effect, selling his labor to himself, although the pay per unit of labor is a variable as a function of the price he garners for his goods or services and the time is takes to complete the same.  Being an independent tailor is no guarantee of less servitude or greater financial gain than being a direct laborer; in many instances it is less so.  

In addition, the technological advancements Marx derides as the tools of Bourgeoisie oppression can also give the worker advantage.  By opening new channels of communication and transportation, workers are able to take advantage of new and distant markets for their labor.  Marx et al argue that only the Bourgeoisie can manipulate new technologies for gain.  The reality is that macroeconomic conditions dictate who will have the advantage: in good times the workers will be in greater demand and able to command higher wages; in poor times jobs are scarce and workers must compete with each other for jobs at bargain wages.  It is no coincidence that Marxist ideologies return anew during economic downturns when jobs are scarce and wages low(er).  However, the panacea is not greater government and central planning (the affects of this approach can be seen in the protraction of economic recession following the 1929 crash and the 2007 recession).  Instead, workers are well advised to work diligently in the good times, live responsibly, and save for the inevitable bad times.

Interestingly, Eric Hobsbawm, author of the forward to the edition I read, acknowledges within his glowing praise that Marx had an underdeveloped, even flawed, knowledge of economics when he and Engels wrote the Manifesto.  I'm sure this has nothing to do with Marx's effective academic failures, much less his failure to contribute productively to society - other than his concerted efforts to undermine it.  Even more ironic is that in the forward to the 1872 German edition of the Communist Manifesto, Engels and Marx conclude they shouldn't revise the document because of its historical nature.  That preface addressed much of the antiquity of the Manifesto's cultural references, but completely ignored the economic errors pointed out by Hobsbawm, though Hobsbawm also claimed Marx developed more advanced economic knowledge in the years after first writing the Manifesto.  Perhaps Marx just never really understood economics (ding, ding, ding, what have we got for him, Johnny?)

5)  The Communist Manifesto makes use of the term "Progressive."  I'm sure this is not the only, or first, time the term is used in historically significant documents, but it certainly seems appropriate considering the context.  Most notably, compare the principles of the Bull-Moose Party to the ten measures of communist takeover listed in Section II of the Manifesto.  For instance, a "heavy progressive or graduated income tax."  Moreover, the insistence that Progressives bill themselves as a political ideology more than a political party is strikingly similar to the notions of a Marxist ideology.

6)  If you destroy the means of production, then what?  In several passages, the Manifesto calls for  destructive protest by the Proletariat against the means of production.  Were the Proletariat successful in their overthrow of capitalism by this tactic, then what would remain to produce the much needed outputs: food, clothing, shelter, Etc.?

7)  Bourgeoisie get their wealth from the Workers.  Really?  This is like saying economies grow by government spending from taxation.  In order for the Bourgeoisie to gain wealth from the Workers they would have to pay them as much, or more, than their gross sales.  In a capitalist economy, some wealth is obtained by the aggregation of sales of a product or service across a particular market; other wealth is gained by the non-monetized change in asset valuation (such as increase in market value of property or stocks without selling).  It will also be true that there are some "Bourgeoisie" who gain wealth and some that lose wealth within any given economy.  In a truly free society with free market capitalism even the Workers have the opportunity to advance, e.g. Oprah, Bill Gates.

8)  Here is a great passage that I think well illustrates the level of "thinking" required to be a Marxist, "In bourgeoisie society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in communist society, the present dominates the past."  Evidently Marx invented a time machine.

9)  "In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property."  Later Marx contends that he doesn't mean abolition of the Worker's property, because there isn't much to take.  Clearly, the intent of Communists is purely selfish gain: when innovation and hard work elude you, just take it from someone who has more via collective acts of violence.  Marx further argues that the abolition of private property would not halt production and "universal laziness will [not] overtake us."  However, this is completely without justification in the Manifesto (or elsewhere).  Private property is a store of wealth for all "classes."  In the concept of Communism there is no motivation for hard work (probably because Marx and Engels were content to live off Engels' family's business income and Marx's inheritances from his in-laws; the two wouldn't have known hard work if it hit them head on).  If there is no store of wealth, then for what purpose should an individual strive to be better?

10)  Marx, and Communists in general, have a vexing hatred of religion.  "But communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience."  Oh, so that's how they justify violence and stealing...these act are no longer immoral because, in their minds, morality doesn't exist.  Furthermore, they effectively explain why communism is so illogical - when you "[abolish] eternal truths" there really can't be any such thing as logical relevance.  I think this is the single most revealing aspect of the whole Communist Manifesto, no less communist ideology in general.  Don't like the truth?  No problem, just ascribe to Marxism and deny there is truth.
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I could expend great multitudes of time and effort describing all the intellectual shortcomings of communism and the Communist Manifesto, but I hope this abbreviated version has been enlightening, or at least validating.  Perhaps I will elaborate further in a future post.  In addition, Capital is on my reading list - I'm sure I will have more glowing praise for that fine work of intellectual vacuum.

28 comments:

  1. Great work on exposing Marx's fallacies. One thing that gets commonly overlooked is what happens to the church in such situations and why. To a communist the church represents a competitor for their title of supreme provider. The communist state is more like a religion or cult than a political movement and as such it must excise any threat to their claim as the epitome of the answer to the common worker’s needs. Whereas in the pre-communist revolution the populace had traditionally looked to the church for charity in times of need now the government must control that facet of the worker’s life and cannot tolerate any entity that might diminish that power over their citizens.

    I just posted on my blog about the communists pattern of subscribing to atheism and systematic destruction of organized religion at http://www.thepriceoffreedom.us/?p=332

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  2. I found another author who compares Liberation Theology and Islam with communism. It is a well researched piece. Thought you might like it too. http://j.mp/c5pKZy

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  3. Some time ago I researched Liberation Theology. Depending upon the source, it is considered to be derived from socialism or communism. The difference seems to be how far back the source researched the connections. If you go back far enough, it is clear that liberation theology originated out of communism in Africa.

    What's also very interesting is that Rev. Wright is well known as a Liberation Theologian.

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  4. The Manifesto's just a pamphlet written pretty much for people who already have sympathies. If you want an actual, meaty Marxist text, then look into Capital, or even just Wage Labour and Capital.

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  5. It sounds like you completely misunderstood the entire work if you think Marx look back fondly at Feudalism, and disdained technology. The exact opposite is true. Marxism views capitalism as progressive in comparison to Feudalism, and Feudalism as progressive in comparison to pre-feudal and pre-agricultural societal systems.

    I think, what you should try to do, is read it and discuss it with Marxists with a critical yet unbiased eye. From the looks of it, you didn't have any intention of giving any of these ideas a chance or trying to fully understand them.

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  6. There are good workers, bad workers and those who do not work at all. In my country the first one enjoys the fruits of his labor best, the second a chance to change his mind and the last one can expect some kind of private or public aid.

    What does the Communist Manifesto have to say about the bad and the lazy? What happened to the workers who did not meet quota in the former USSR? I think I have an idea.

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  7. Marx and Engels sought to remove the institution of religion because they viewed it as wage garnishment and a method of social control. They also saw it as a tool to be used by the ruling class to hinder truth by placing the mystical above the real while the rulers plotted more exploitation of the working class. Most certainly in their time this was very true of Religion and even afterwards.

    "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people"

    It's a more nuanced point than you seem to be giving Marx credit for.

    Marx specifically views Feudalism as a more "noble" period in human history because of the worker's relationship to his labor, however, he doesn't assume that it's a better system of economics compared to capitalism. The Bourg in France and America (specifically pre Napoleon and post Lincoln) are a progressive class because it abolished mystical relationships and put the emphasis on human achievement. Marx shares the favoritism of the Enlightenment era that was common amongst most "intellectuals" that includes several people that you probably like (Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin).

    It is popular to think that feudalism is "noble" but very few people consider this a better mode of living compared to capitalism. Marx certainly did not think this way.

    Marx "didn't know hard work" might be true in a certain sense. He was well known as a drinker and womanizer who got in street brawls and lived his life in intellectual pursuits. However, it's hard to argue that he was lazy when it came to these intellectual pursuits and I don't think any well informed person would make this claim. Many intellectuals were supported by Aristocrats or were Aristocrats themselves. In fact Greek Philosophers were exclusively supported by a system that had them placed in a certain class which prevented them from doing actual hard labor and allowed them to think.

    If you want to read some good journalistic/editorial work by Marx I would suggest looking over his articles on the Civil War. If you can read through those and tell me there is nothing but intellectual dishonesty or laziness then I'll be impressed by such an analysis and naturally demand an explanation.

    Good luck reading Capital, I hear it's a massive pain in the ass.

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  8. I don't want to be a stickler, but Marx had no sympathies for Feudalism. In fact, further along in Capital, he criticizes people who oppose capitalism and seek to "turn time backwards" and favor a return to feudalism. In his mind and in his analysis, Feudalism is a brutal and exploitative system, just like Capitalism is.

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  9. I appreciate the comments and the decorum.

    Either I overemphasized my read on Marx's view towards feudalism or that's just what many of you decided to address. I am less interested in whether Marx actually liked or disliked feudalism and far more interested in the logical outcomes of Marxism.

    Namely, under Marxism who controls the capital and the means of production? Marxism necessarily requires a ruling class. In practice, and in experience, Marxism requires replacement of one supposed tyrant (Bourgeoisie) for another tyrant: the ruling class. This is evident with unions. I worked in a union shop and saw first hand the self-serving nature of the union leadership. What was supposed to serve the employees ended up serving the union bosses to the detriment of the "collective."

    I would like insight into the Marxist thought on this issue. What is the benefit of eradicating a system in which people have an opportunity to succeed from abject poverty to amazing prosperity with one in which an even smaller segment of the population (the political rulers) controls everyone's destiny - collective poverty?

    I know Marxism can be theorized to perfection, but it fails under the scope of common sense. The application of Marxism never works, and can't work, because of the realities of human nature.

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  10. why did you put "evil" in quotation marks? it doesn't appear anywhere in the manifesto bro

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  11. Evil in quotations because that is the view of capitalism expressed by most Marxists. Note the eigth comment calling capitalism "brutal." I'm using quotes to show it's not my own view.

    I do find it perplexing that no one offers a rebuttal to any of the charges of substance.

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  12. "Either I overemphasized my read on Marx's view towards feudalism or that's just what many of you decided to address. I am less interested in whether Marx actually liked or disliked feudalism and far more interested in the logical outcomes of Marxism."

    You made it an issue. Some people on both sides make it an issue. It's not really true, though, and it's one of the easier things to disprove. Saint-Simon, arguably the first modern socialist, wasn't even an agrarian feudalist supporter. You'd likely find more anti industrialism and raw agrarianism in Jefferson's writings or Aristotle. Both loose conservatives.

    "Namely, under Marxism who controls the capital and the means of production? Marxism necessarily requires a ruling class. In practice, and in experience, Marxism requires replacement of one supposed tyrant (Bourgeoisie) for another tyrant: the ruling class. This is evident with unions. I worked in a union shop and saw first hand the self-serving nature of the union leadership. What was supposed to serve the employees ended up serving the union bosses to the detriment of the "collective.""

    The easy answer would be that the workers themselves would control the means of production. Of course there is nuance and political intrigue. I don't think the suggestion would be that it's easy or can be well defended simply by the implementation of certain planks. Look at the system in Great Britain, where they still pay taxes to a hereditary monarchy and religion. Those are aspects of Feudalism that have not been erased. It has been argued by a lot of people that feudalism is still alive in many parts of the world. It's clearly not a zero sum game.

    "I would like insight into the Marxist thought on this issue. What is the benefit of eradicating a system in which people have an opportunity to succeed from abject poverty to amazing prosperity with one in which an even smaller segment of the population (the political rulers) controls everyone's destiny - collective poverty?"

    I think it's more an issue of politics than it is economics. Republican rule (in the Platonic sense) is far less conducive to freedom than Constitutional and Democratic rule. There are certain benefits to Republican rule, but they don't allow the sphere of relative dialogue to take place.

    For example, the Republican rule in Russia post 1917 was in many ways a reaction to the harsh measures put upon it. It was also a way to quickly generate industry in the hope of spreading worldwide revolution. The latter failed but the former took place. The problem was that it didn't necessarily produce a happier, more involved public in the political sense; in fact the political sense was resolutely crushed in the public sphere.

    However, the cost on welfare and politics nonwithstanding, the Economy boomed in the 30's and put them as a superpower. The problem was, in my opinion, that the Republican politics were kept and the economics were changed. Essentially the smart decisions were reversed in order for a few to maintain power.

    Make no mistake, Marx is finally dead when the cyclical crisis of capitalism combined with imperialism, slavery, and starvation is mediated to a non existent level. Marx is ONLY relevant when people are looking for solutions to problems.

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  13. I did make feudalism an issue, but I hardly thought it would be that point with which most Marxists would want to focus on as it has little connection with the true failures of Marxist thought. Anyway...moving on.

    "The easy answer would be that the workers themselves would control the means of production." We both know that the workers cannot individually control the means of production - this would be abject chaos. Instead, an organizational structure would necessarily emerge; we might call it a union, but the name is entirely unimportant. Within that hierarchy would be leaders and, in short order, you have reestablished a ruling class. We have certainly witnessed the corruption and self-promotion within unions and there is no reason to expect otherwise.

    "Essentially the smart decisions were reversed in order for a few to maintain power." I'm sure you and I would be at complete opposite ends of the spectrum on what constitutes "smart decisions," but leaving that aside you have hit upon the reason Marxism will always fail: human nature. As I mentioned above, the human tendency is towards self-preservation so it's expected that the few in power would do what is necessary to maintain their firm grasp on power. This is the problem with politics regardless of the form of government. In a pure democracy (as opposed to republic) the potential for despotism is greater because a non-majority can elect their preferred leaders. This may work well for that non-majority until an opposing non-majority renders the same benefit (assuming they get the opportunity back from the "few").

    "Marx is ONLY relevant when people are looking for solutions to problems." I'm not sure of your intended implication here, but the problem with relying upon Marx is, once again, the need to entrust everything to the "few" in a position of political power. Marxist "solutions" may work short-term, but the crisis will only deepen and the "few" will wrest ever greater power from the populace. When solutions are market based there is a tangible economic benefit. When solutions are government based, as Marxist "solutions" must be, there is a fabricated economic benefit. Consider the great depression. FDR created government programs intended to provide work. I'm sure the government workers were thankful, but the economy never improved; the crisis worsened because there was no real economic benefit and work was allocated according to political necessity (again, the "few" working to game the system for their personal gain). Conversely, the rebound from WWII was brought on by real market conditions. I'm not advocating war for economic gain by any stretch of the imagination, but I am advocating solutions that have tangible benefits.

    I appreciate your comments and feedback. It is rare and refreshing to get disagreement without overt ad hominem - although you and your contemporaries are having a bit more fun at my expense on revleft. Here's a final question to which I would enjoy your answer: why do Marxist dissociate themselves from Communism?

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  14. You don't seem to have understood what you were reading, at all.

    "Evil in quotations because that is the view of capitalism expressed by most Marxists. Note the eigth comment calling capitalism "brutal." I'm using quotes to show it's not my own view."

    No, its not at all. Marx did not at all view capitalism as "evil". He clearly explained that capitalism was a natural development that came with the Industrial revolution, destroying the foundation of feudalism. He rather viewed capitalism as natural development. He also did not "lament the bygone days of feudal society". Where did you get any notion of that understanding?

    You seem to have read it with an intense bias without any interest of actually understanding his work. Really I could comment a lot more of your misunderstanding in more detail if you would want me to.

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  15. I would love for you to clarify it for me. My interpretations are based on what the Communist Manifesto says, so explaining how Marx didn't mean what he wrote would be very enlightening. Further, to suggest Marxists don't view capitalism as evil goes against views in the comments above; not to mention centuries of Communist opinions to the contrary.

    In particular, Marx was advocating the violent overthrow of capitalism. How does one rationalize that without believing capitalism is evil?

    I would also ask that you formulate your information to address the more significant points made in my original post.

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  16. "In particular, Marx was advocating the violent overthrow of capitalism. How does one rationalize that without believing capitalism is evil?"

    Because he observed violent clashes between the upper and the lower class(es) throughout history, and so he believed that a similar clash or struggle would be necessary to progress past capitalism. Karl Marx was a Materialist. Moral and ethical labels like "good" and "evil" don't fit in a materialist analysis.

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  17. "although you and your contemporaries are having a bit more fun at my expense on revleft"

    Oh, we're being more or less civil.

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  18. "Moral and ethical labels like "good" and "evil" don't fit in a materialist analysis."

    I realize he was a materialist; he would probably would ascribe to humanism if alive today. It must be nice to have no moral accountability, whimsically declaring what is acceptable and unacceptable as it best fits your agenda. Where does that kind of subjectivity end? Does that kind of thinking justify the gulags in the USSR? Is that how eugenics is defensible? Under that regime who decides what is good or bad?

    If you have no value system, then by what measure can you say capitalism is good or bad? Why and by what standard do you say that the worker is being unscrupulously used for selfish gain? Materialism/humanism fails under reductio ad absurdem. I'm sure your response would be that it is not one or the other, but then who gets to decide? If it's according to what political body is in power, then what kind of system of laws would that be? It would be as chaotic as the changing of political tides.

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  19. "I appreciate your comments and feedback. It is rare and refreshing to get disagreement without overt ad hominem - although you and your contemporaries are having a bit more fun at my expense on revleft. Here's a final question to which I would enjoy your answer: why do Marxist dissociate themselves from Communism?"

    I'm certainly not engaged in that thread on revleft. I decided to respond directly to you. If you want to respond to them then please feel free to do so.

    "Why Do Marxists dissociate themselves from Communism?"

    1. The Soviet Union was, for all intents and purposes, "Communism" in popular dialogue. Therefore to be a "Communist" in popular discourse would be to be a supporter of the Soviet Union. This went both ways; you aren't a communist to the Soviet Union if you disagree with them. If you're a communist then you're automatically pro Soviet Union outside of its sphere of influence. Plenty of Marxists disagreed/fought with Lenin, and many more with Trotsky, Stalin, Kruschev, et al. The problem is that however pro Communist they may be, they couldn't be pro Communist without being pro Soviet Union according to the common discourse.

    2. There are aspects of Marxism that are put into literature or art or specific field studies or abstractions that, in the opinion of some individuals, does not necessitate overt political action. "Communism" is linked to the Soviet Union, but also to overt political action. Analytical Marxism might be an example.

    3. There are "Communists" who disagree with Marx.

    If you're suggesting some dishonesty then I'd say that you're probably right about some people within the "movement." I'm sure there are a few people who thought that the Soviet Union was more desirable than any other alternative and that there must be a certain "changing of the dialogue" to reinstitute much the same thing without the historic taste of defeat. However, I don't think this warrants the ability to write off Marxists as being purely deceptive.

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  20. It is certainly easier as a non-practicing ideologue to disagree with anything that doesn't resemble the purest form (whatever one might argue that is) of the ideology. In other words, can the Marxists who disagree(d) with Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Kruschev, Mao, Castro, Kim Jong il, et al be certain that these political leaders were perverting Marxism? Might it be possible that the implementation of Marxism in the real world - outside of the theoretical - ends up as it is in the respective Communist states because of the inherent corruptible nature of mankind?

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  21. That's a good point and that's why Marxism and Communism suffered a large blow in "respected" opinion. The problem with Marxism, as you've pointed out, is that it may be only attainable under the circumstances in which it was attempted.

    Or, to put it better; Imperialism, hierarchy, and war might all suck but what about Pol Pot? Which honest person could say that Pol Pot was a desirable alternative to the worst of the things mentioned above? And who is to say that Pol Pot didn't represent anything at all similar to the goals of achieving Marxism in reality?

    If it were simply a matter of "might makes right" then Communism is dead. If it's a moral question then it becomes the comparative juxtaposition of extremes. Who is worse? Stalin or Hitler.

    The answer would be that Communists actively sought to undermine each other at every possible turn and that purer forms of Communism were destroyed by people interested in the same things as exploiters with different clothes. Or the answer would be that in order for Communism to take shape it must occur much further into the future when the right material conditions have been met. My opinion is that while I agree with Marxist criticisms of Capitalism and Materialist history, I don't see any valuable alternative presented by the fringe left or most of the mainstream on either side to be actively sustainable or "solution" worthy.

    If you're interested in reading the "dark" side and what it has to say, I would suggest starting with "Critique of Crisis Theory" which is a blog done by a traditional Marxist economist. He'll respond to your criticisms .

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  22. Imperialism is certainly undesirable, but it is innate. Marx advocated the overthrow of the Bourgeoisie by the Proletariat and the taking of their property. Why? For the benefit of the "workers" of the world who would unite. Is that not class warfare? Is that not imperialism?

    Clearly, not everyone in the world wants communism. In theory, it would be the most affluent people who would be the most opposed. In practice, it's those who stand to lose the most wealth or power, and those who oppose it on philosophical grounds but do not have an abundance of wealth or power. Although the Proletariat, as described in the Manifesto, are not a political body per se, their objective was most certainly imperialistic - to assert power and control over a vast expanse of political and/or geographic landscapes for their personal gain.

    In order to be successful they would have to wrest power and money away from those who already possess it. The inevitable response towards theft of property is force, violent if necessary. No wonder then that every communist state has had in its genesis the slaughter of millions of its own citizens. Marxism, in practice, can’t stand up to logical or ethical scrutiny – no less criticism. The combination of opposition and lack of an objective ethos (per Marx’s Materialism) is the mass murder of those standing against the communist state. Therefore, I would contend Pol Pot represents exactly what communism becomes when theory meets reality.

    What future material conditions could possibly make Marxism work? The destruction of every last opposing mind? Identification and removal of the greed gene? Government regulation of every aspect of human existence? Not even equal distributions of money or property could make Marxism more tenable. Our nature is to create value where none may have existed previously. If we all had the same monetary situation we would argue over who had greater authority, or better hair, or more talent, or could build a better house, or ad infinitem. In spite of best efforts, Marxist society would regenerate into capitalism because there will always be a disparity of talents, if not property, unto which we will attribute value followed by the inevitable trade of stores of value.

    Capitalism is far from perfect, but it puts the power in the hands of the supplier and the buyer. Where it fails is also at the vertex of human nature – someone takes advantage of the market out of greed. Incomplete or unavailable information is a key leverage point for this kind of corruption. Nowhere is it worse than when a market participant with significant capital also obtains significant political capital. Therefore, a powerful government (run by corruptible people) makes it easier for a corrupt market participant to succeed at his dastardly plans because he will use the greed of the politicians to add power to his wealth. We’ve seen this in recent legislation and regulation rife with exemptions for groups and entities connected to powerful politicians. What is intended to prevent future market calamity ends up creating greater market disparity between those who become more regulated and those who become less so.

    Capitalism works because it builds on the egocentricity of the human psyche. Some government is necessary, but wherever possible, the two should be at arm’s length to one another. Caring for the poor and less fortunate is an ethical obligation for all of us – it is beyond the scope of the market and the government because neither will accomplish it adequately (as history is my witness). Putting all the political power and all the money in the hands of a few [inherently self-serving] people will always be a recipe for human disaster.

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  23. Imperialism, Slavery, The Capitalist Market, The State are all in the business of extracting surplus value by forcing people to work more for needs which are complicated and accentuated by actors looking to simply reproduce the process at greater and greater lengths for their massive and excessive benefit. To the Marxist, the takeover of surplus class powers and their defeat is the moral position. A Marxist can maintain that violence for violence's sake is wrong, but that violence against the surplus classes is right. Don't think about an angry college student lobbing molotov cocktails into Grandma's house. Think about a clan of people in Africa vigorously defending themselves from Spanish or Danish or British Slavers and their African henchman. Also, it is proportional. The idea that a mom and pop operation will have to succumb to a barely articulated communist edifice on pain of death is a bit absurd. Akin to saying somebody who has travailed a red traffic light warrants execution by gas chamber.

    As far as Praxis is concerned: I agree with you, and it's troubling. Inarguably the most perverse offender in the name of Marxist-Communism was Pol Pot. He set up torture camps and willingly starved the people in his system while he launched a propaganda campaign aimed at destroying all old culture and fomenting the spirit of reckless warfare.

    I'll try to answer your criticism the best I can. Don't mistake me for an apologist for Pol Pot. If there's a hell, he should be there.

    1. To equate Communism with Pol Pot means that I can equate Western Civilization proponents with Hitler. I can equate Neo-Liberal Capitalism with the starvation of 20% of the population in Ireland in the mid 1800's. I can equate the takeover of the Americas by the West as similarly evil. I can point to Leopold II, who is Pol Pot's roomie in the 9th level.

    A problem with your argument is that you assume that the ownership classes are automatically in the right due to "human nature" and so you don't fault them for invidiously carrying out monstrously inhumane and fundamentally immoral activities because they don't deny a truth of "human nature." You are able to understand the position of landlords and theocrats who are having their privilege stripped as necessarily fomenting a counter revolution. You are not able to see that the starvation, exploitation, and deprecation of morality caused by these ruling classes and elements of their system can produce a just outcry. Say whatever you want about the horrors of the bolsheviks, just take a look at the positions of their right wing opposition - Anti Semitic warriors who carry out mass pogroms, intentionally starve villages and cities, propose rule by dictator.

    Did the Bolshevik revolution happen because a couple of bored college students figured out a way to manipulate the public? It happened because of massive income inequality, starvation, and a world war that resulted in the deaths of millions. Things you may take for granted right now were in fact fought for in the revolution of 1917. Not just in labor progress but in fundamental human ethics that apply to everybody.

    2. The better argument you made is about how such a society could function and produce positive change. Without an apple in front of the horse how will it move? (besides being whipped). You then also argue that there is a feedback between the consumer and the buyer which gives both sides rights in determining the future social order.

    I don't have an answer to the profit motive question or the supplier-buyer question yet.

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  24. 3. How will a socialist society work?

    In my opinion, in order for a socialistic society to work it must be primarily constitutionally based. I think one thing the founding fathers of America got right was the adherence to a fixed set of principles that united a large swathe of the population to achieve the ends of independence. I think that the constitution compromised (especially in slavery) but I think the constitution was also taken with great care to include a lot of people in the debate who could be united for a common purpose. In this way I think that Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Assembly, and the Second Amendment were a series of amazing propositions created as a result after the end of a series of epic hostilities. Compromise, Debate, and liberty were significant contributions that kept a dream alive both in writing and in practice, sometimes.

    I also believe that Republican rule is fundamentally in error. Aristotle and Plato both favored republican rule but I see it as the ultimate nexus of power in the hands of an exploiting class. A group of people who have the exclusive means to final power will degenerate into a group of people looking out for their personal interests, they will develop as a unified class of oppression.

    I side with democracy as the best option for political expression outside of constitutionalism. I think that democracies should be expressed in a way that demands equality and collective responsibility. If a nation decides to go to war then I believe it should only be possible through majoritarian consent; and that this majoritarian consent will come glued with collective responsibility. So if we go to war with Canada we will all be subjected to a military draft that includes every citizen in a position that best fits their abilities to engage in military action. No breaks for the rich, powerful, or people heading to Mexico. We want war, we get war, and we fight it, no exceptions.

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  25. I won’t ever justify slavery – it’s wrong. Note that no economic model or body politic can prevent evil. Only by believing in and observing objective moral principles can we avoid it. Without an objective ethos how would we ever know or care if something were evil? That doesn’t mean humans who adhere to these principles won’t try to justify evil, the difference is that we have a basis for determining that their actions were in fact evil.

    “…the business of extracting surplus value by forcing people to work more for needs which are complicated and accentuated by actors looking to simply reproduce the process at greater and greater lengths for their massive and excessive benefit.” First, slavers would certainly force people into labor, but in a capitalist labor market the employee chooses to work or not to work if the terms fit his needs. In tight labor markets it may certainly seem as though one is forced through the possibility of not having any income, but the choice is still there. Second, what defines massive and excessive benefit? Who gets to decide? Is it based on net profit margin? If profit margin, it’s noteworthy that retail giant WalMart has a net profit margin of 4-5% whereas Harvard’s is about 18%. Does that make Harvard more deplorable? Should entrepreneurs who invest their life savings, risk years without any profit, and work tirelessly not be entitled to large benefit? The profit motive is what motivates the sellers to produce what the buyers want. If you assign a fixed profit, or none at all, the greatest or riskiest innovations will have no motivation. In capitalism, it is profit and reward that motivate desirable outputs. What is it in Marxism? Political decisions that supposedly benefit the masses, although they really only benefit the politicians? Third, Marxism confuses value. It assumes that the value of the end product should be divided amongst all the people who made that product possible. How so? Evenly? If not evenly, then in what proportions and who decides? Should the labor of someone who folds shirts and puts them back on the shelf at WalMart be worth as much as the labor of the corporate strategist who must make complex strategic decisions to ensure the company remains viable and can continue to pay the salaries of hundreds of thousands of employees? Is the value of the stocker some arbitrary percentage of the company’s profits, or is it the price someone is willing to be paid for the work? WalMart has a backlog of applications for stocker positions so should it pay the stocker far in excess of what the myriad other applicants would be willing to do the work for? Conversely, there are few qualified strategists and the position has far greater stress and responsibility; WalMart would have to pay these employees far more because the labor they perform is more valuable. Fourth, if a capitalist profits with a return on his wealth of 20% and we say it is excessive; then what is a 50% tax on that profit?

    “A Marxist can maintain that violence for violence's sake is wrong, but that violence against the surplus classes is right.” Upon what moral code is this based? Who decides what defines the “surplus classes?” Is not the objective of such violence against the surplus classes the increase of material wealth? If Marxism supposes that the working class is underpaid because they have an inordinately small share of the “surplus” then the motivation is most certainly material. So violence for the sake of money (a pittance if you do the math) is justified?

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  26. “The idea that a mom and pop operation will have to succumb to a barely articulated communist edifice on pain of death is a bit absurd.” I think that a capitalist who has worked hard and fairly obtained his wealth, as per the rule of law and the willing labor of his employees at an agreed rate in combination with the consumption of his products by willing buyers, should succumb to death for the same communist edifice is absurd. Moreover, without definition or articulation there is no reason to presume a mom and pop operation would not be subjected to the violence. How can I assess what is absurd or not when there is no prior qualification?

    “To equate Communism with Pol Pot means that I can equate Western Civilization proponents with Hitler.” Don’t confuse the capitalist economic model for depravity. Hitler’s evil had nothing to do with capitalism. He was certainly imperialistic and he was a socialist, but this again is not an indictment against capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t necessitate a particular form of government. My point about Pol Pot was that Marxism does necessitate a form of government that must control the dissenting factions; moreover, that such form has historically always been violent. Although I certainly don’t believe every theoretical Marxist has a similar bent on murder, I do believe the only way Marxism can be implemented in the real world necessarily includes the slaughter of innocents, control of individual speech and media, and authoritarian government. When it can be rationalized that violence against a certain portion of the population, e.g. the arbitrarily defined “surplus classes,” is morally just then it is a simple logical step to conclude violence against the portion of the population that is opposed to Marxism is also just.

    Leopold II’s actions in the Congo are also not capitalism. If it were then where was the free trade in the labor market? Not only was there no capitalism in the Congo under Leopold, the form of government in the Congo Free State was anything but republican or democratic. Once again, Leopold illustrates the degeneracy of humanity and the danger of absolute power. Albeit a far cry from the atrocities in the Congo, the American colonies certainly suffered under colonialism as well – which gave birth the USA with capitalism and a constitutional republic as solutions to the oppression.

    “A problem with your argument is that you assume that the ownership classes are automatically in the right due to "human nature" and so you don't fault them for invidiously carrying out monstrously inhumane and fundamentally immoral activities because they don't deny a truth of "human nature."” I’m in no way condoning insidious acts. I am suggesting that capitalism works because it pairs the human desires of the seller and the buyer – nowhere suggesting cruelty is an acceptable byproduct. Notably, I said that corruption, indeed evil, happens because of the elicit desires of humanity and that this is what makes a powerful political body dangerous precisely because it cannot be trusted to overcome humanism. Anti-Semitism, slavery, and imperialism are unjust acts caused by fallible, corruptible human nature – not capitalism. Yet to say that evil against evil is justifiable because one was evil first is the kind of reasoning that only yields more unnecessary evil.

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  27. “…series of amazing propositions created as a result after the end of a series of epic hostilities…” The Founders believed in Natural Law granted by our Creator. What made these propositions so profound was that the Founders realized true rights don’t come from other people who, when compelled by their flawed nature to subvert others, can take them away or alter them on a whiim. Further that those rights are not arbitrary. “I think that the constitution compromised (especially in slavery)…” Indeed this was a poor compromise, and an example of how the humanity in us can so easily turn us away from truth. How odd to know liberty was an inalienable right, but then to not insist on the immediate abolition of slavery (instead of the 20 year “grace” period originally allotted in the constitution).

    “A group of people who have the exclusive means to final power will degenerate into a group of people looking out for their personal interests, they will develop as a unified class of oppression.” Agreed…this has been my point throughout. “I also believe that Republican rule is fundamentally in error…” I disagree. I think the constitutional republic is the best option, not because it is perfect, but because it (1) establishes a basis upon which future decisions can be adjudicated and (2) it addresses a fundamental problem with democracies: minority majorities. While I agree the idea of democracy sounds nice in principle, the problem is that any decision not strictly confined to a yes or no response can be determined by less than 50% of the voting population. Therefore, a non-representative minority can gain control. From a practical standpoint, there cannot be a population-wide vote for every issue either; thus, some representation is necessary.

    No matter what the political form it will be subject to corruption. The less power a government can exert over the populous, the less corruptibility – or impact of corruption, at least. In the U.S. political corruption has only become worse as the power of politicians has increased. We need laws and government, but only to a limited degree. Clearly, larger government does nothing to eradicate poverty or curtail social injustices.

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  28. Did not Marx/Engels propose a "dictatorship of the proletariat" which would eventually just "wither away" as, presumanly, unecessary in the workers paradise of communism? Why would the proletarian dictatorship be any more benign than any other dictatorship? And why would it "just wither away"? What would emerge to fill the void if it did? Totally fanciful concepts which any rational being would dismiss as absurd. Ninety-four million souls have perished under Communist regimes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (*). Hitler killed just six million by way of comparison.
    (*) See "The Black Book of Communism" by Curtois et al.

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