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“”The world would not be in such a snarl
had Marx been Groucho instead of Karl.
What Marx did and didn't do
Marx and Engels did not invent the idea of socialism or even communism. There were communist and socialist trade unions and political parties prior to the pair publishing anything on political economy. As well, they didn't invent philosophical theorizing about socialism. There were plenty of contemporary thinkers on the topic who published just as many books Marx and Engels and with whom Marx debated publicly.
Marx wrote for the New York Daily Tribune, and some believe Abraham Lincoln regularly read his columns, given the language with which the president spoke about the changes then taking place in the American and world economies that he and the radical Republicans were dreading. Marx did, in fact, congratulate Lincoln on his 1864 reelection and was probably entirely sincere while doing so, which should come as no surprise, as Marx regarded wage-earning proletarians as still better off than slaves.
Though he went through a somewhat authoritarian phase in the middle of his life, Marx's work did not advocate anything remotely approaching the authoritarianism advocated and then carried out by Lenin or by Mao. As Marx grew older, he returned to the more libertarian (no, not that kind of libertarian) tendencies of his youth.
Contrary to popular belief, Marx did not create the phrase "from each according to his ability to each according to his need", that was Louis Blanc.
If you like to deal in glib superlatives, Marx - despite his reputation in certain circles - makes the running for the greatest economist of the 19th century and perhaps the most influential economist of all time.
Marx and Judaism
Marx was of Jewish descent, which was the original prompt by conspiracy theorists to tie Marxism in with the theory of the international Jewish conspiracy, claiming that communism was made to advance Jewish domination of the world. However, Marx's relationship with his Jewish identity is a great deal more complex than all that. His father, Herschel Mordechai, came from a long line of rabbis, but received a secular German education himself, and converted to Lutheranism around the time of Marx's birth, changing his name to Heinrich Marx. This was a career move; Herschel was a lawyer, but the German government had made it illegal for Jews to practice law. Karl Marx was baptized into the Lutheran church at age six, and later in life wrote an essay, On the Jewish Question, in which he drew on stereotypes of money-worshipping "huckster" Jews and stated that as a part of the development of capitalism, "Christians [had] become Jews" (i.e., the "Jewish" culture of capitalism had assimilated all the old cultures of Europe). Though it also has been argued that it could be satirical, given that it had responded to a traditionally antisemitic article.
Marx and communist states
His fanboys have shown quite a tenacious resistance to the suggestion that something might be wrong with what he said (though given the large split between different factions, to the point where in the Spanish Civil War, Stalinists mostly killed Trotskyists, it is understandable), even as leaders professing his philosophy turn into dictators one after another, and the combined death toll from their regimes rises into the mid to high eight figures (largely attributed to Stalinist Russia and Maoist China).[notes 2] One common response to this is to point out that certain anti-communists also racked up non-negligible skull counts in the name of fighting communism, notably Adolf Hitler (and his Axis allies such as Mussolini, Franco, and Pavelic), Suharto of Indonesia, Syngman Rhee of South Korea,[notes 3], Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, a succession of military dictators in Guatemala, the junta in El Salvador, the Somozas in Nicaragua, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina, Hissene Habre in Chad, François Duvalier of Haiti, and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, many of which were backed by the United States throughout the Cold War. This is an instance of tu quoque [notes 4], although certain US politicians such as Jeane Kirkpatrick backed anti-communist regimes solely on the basis that they were not as bad as communist regimes, which is debatable as many anti-communist regimes killed an equal or higher per-capita number of those under their control.[notes 5]
However, it is also worth noting that none of Marx's predicted "proletarian revolutions" occurred in industrialized nation-states, such as the United Kingdom[notes 6] where he lived, but instead in less industrialized states such Russia and China, during periods of political and economic turmoil. Marxist rhetoric is also appealing to post-colonial independence movements, even those which are largely agrarian and lacked an established working class. In some cases, such as Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and China, the communist revolutions had popular local support due to the roles they played in war; while in other cases, such as Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, communist governments were largely forced upon them, and such countries essentially function as puppet states of the the Soviet Union. Of course forcing a political regime on a largely unwilling populace does not tend to engender much love and might end a tad bloody. It is also a fact of history, that any government will overstay its welcome. If it is the government of a democratic state, it will be voted out, except when it's not. If not, too bad[notes 7].
A frequent argument by Marxists
To get this out of the way, prior to the Russian revolution (and again after 1991) most Marxists interpreted Marx differently from Lenin's interpretation. While the non-Leninist Marx interpretation says basically that full industrial development under a capitalist system is a precondition for communism (which would make the USSR not a communist state, at least not at the time Lenin lived), Lenin disagreed and argued that given the right revolutionary leader (such as himself), a largely agrarian state (such as Russia) could "skip" capitalism and become communist immediately. Thus many modern Marxists have explained away the fall and the atrocities of Maoist China (which is now communist in name only) and the USSR as them not having been "really" communist due to their largely agrarian nature at the time of the revolution. Whether this constitutes a no true Scotsman depends largely on your own views on Capitalism, Communism and the various Leninist dictatorships.
Marx and... Scifi?
So why does Marxism make such a big deal about industrialization being needed in order for Communism to arise? It has to do with one of the biggest and as yet not completely answered question that has arisen as a result of industrialization; "once we automate all the jobs, what do we do with the redundant workers?"
Marx's answer forms the core of his ideas of communism; the factories would become automated but then quasi-owned by everyone, and the vast majority of people would be freed up to pursue whatever they wanted. During Marx's time, the vast majority of people were either laborers on farms or working in the factories, but even then the machines were becoming more and more efficient every year. There would theoretically come a point where the factories would be almost completely automated and manual labor would be redundant. At this point, a revolt of some vague form would occur, and humanity would collectively own these automated factories and the vast majority of people would be free to pursue whatever they desired. While there'd be no "class" that anyone was born into that would mostly determine what options you had in life, despite what people imagine, there'd still be people who worked harder or were more productive, and these people would be compensated more for their efforts.
This sounded all well and good, but for many Communists, this sort of Futurism was too distant; people such as Lenin basically decided to skip over the "progress society to the point where labor is unnecessary" straight to the "make me dictator of everything" phase.
In this vein, much of Marx's works becomes speculative fiction that has since been expanded upon and independently 'discovered' by generations of science fiction writers and readers a century later.
Marx's influence today
- Support for and instances of worker self-management are growing throughout the world. A number of Western and Latin American countries have adopted policies aimed to produce and support employee-owned firms. Other countries, such as Great Britain and Spain, are simply waiting to elect their left-wing parties to a majority in their parliament before doing so. Bernie Sanders included the idea on his platform, but never brought it up during his campaign; he also never became POTUS, the poor bastard.
- Does Juche count as Marxist-inspired? Maybe, if all the bad bits of Marxism such as overweighing Nationalism over freedom, Dogmatic principles justified as "natural events" and a tendency to attract power hungry people into power were left boiling in a ideological pot for about sixty years, then yes.
- Fucking Tankies
Marx and light bulbs
Q: How many Marxists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. The light bulb contains within itself the seeds of its own revolution.
- The name "Karl Heinrich Marx", used in various lexicons, is based on an error. His birth certificate says "Carl Marx", and elsewhere "Karl Marx" is used. "K. H. Marx" is used only in his poetry collections and the transcript of his dissertation; because Marx wanted to honor his father, who had died in 1838, he called himself "Karl Heinrich" in three documents. The article by Friedrich Engels "Marx, Karl Heinrich" in Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften (Jena, 1892, column 1130 to 1133 see Marx/Engels Collected Works Volume 22, pp. 337–345) does not justify assigning Marx a middle name. See Heinz Monz: Karl Marx. Grundlagen zu Leben und Werk. NCO-Verlag, Trier 1973, p. 214 and 354, respectively.
- The number of deaths varies depending on whether or not famine deaths are included in the total. High-end estimates for the number of victims under Mao in the PRC include some 20,000,000 to 72,000,000 victims of the famine caused by the "Great Leap Forward", which stemmed from a bungled attempt to strengthen China's economy. If the criteria was narrowed to include only deliberate political murders and deaths in labor camps, the number would probably be in the millions to low tens of millions. Among Mao's atrocities were the mass killings of "counterrevolutionaries" and landlords during the early 1950s (2-5 million dead), an estimated 400,000 to 3,000,000 killed between 1966 and 1976 in the "Cultural Revolution".
- During the Korean War, impoverished farmers were liquidated because they "might" have become communists in the future. Douglas MacArthur considered the matter to be an internal affair of America's anti-communist allies
- Unless, maybe, you also consider some argument about the supposed "moral superiority" of anti-communist regimes. But even that argument is debatable.
- 42,171 extrajudicial killings by security forces were recorded in El Salvador between 1978 and 1983, comprising nearly 1.0% of the population. A similar proportion were killed in Guatemala. These numbers may be a gross underestimate as many killings were unrecorded. In East Timor, as much as 44% of the population may have perished due to the Indonesian Army's policy of massacres and enforced famine, a scale which is equal to or greater than Pol Pot's reign in Cambodia.
- Unless one counts the Paris Commune of 1871, which was crushed by the reactionaries in less than two months, or the Spanish Revolution of the Spanish Civil War, which was ironically crushed by so-called communists, or the Hungarian Revolution, which was again crushed by the so-called communists, or the revolution Rosa Luxemburg led in Germany, which was crushed by a social democratic regime
- Danish historian Erling Bjøl deserves a quote here, speaking about Walter Ulbricht's durability as the leader of communist East Germany: „Ulbricht had Stalin's confidence. He turned the SED into a reliable instrument of power and disproved the old adage, that bayonets can be used for everything, except sitting on them.“
- Mandel, Ernest (1971). "11: Progressive Disalienation Through the Building of Socialist Society, or Inevitable Alienation in Industrial Society?". The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx. Modern Reader Paperback Edition: Economics. New York: NYU Press. p. 208. ISBN 9780853451877. https://books.google.com/books?id=99VWCgAAQBAJ. Retrieved 2017-07-23. "[...] there are those who recognize, with Emile James, that Marx was the greatest economist of the nineteenth century,” [...]."
- Lo, Andrew W. (2017). "6: The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis". Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 219. ISBN 9781400887767. https://books.google.com/books?id=eAs1DgAAQBAJ. Retrieved 2017-07-23. "[...] a revolutionary journalist named Karl Marx, perhaps the most influential economist on the planet for a hundred years (and maybe of all time, by certain metrics)."
- Interpretations of On the Jewish Question on Wikipedia
- Marx on automation