Karl Marx

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The world would not be in such a snarl had Marx been Groucho instead of Karl.
—Irving Berlin

Karl Marx[notes 1] (1818–1883) was the godfather of all pinko commie scum; he co-wrote the Communist Manifesto (with Friedrich Engels) and wrote Das Kapital. His ghost subjects Ayn Rand's to eternal wage slavery as she burns in hell.

What Marx did and didn't do[edit]

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 as 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, praise Lincoln for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and congratulate him 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 Stalin 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"; he merely popularized the phrase, which was said to have been originated by Étienne-Gabriel MorellyWikipedia in his 1755 book, Code de la nature, ou de véritable esprit de ses lois.

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[1] and perhaps the most influential economist of all time.[2]

Ancestry[edit]

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.[3]

Marx and communist states[edit]

The (in)famous Karl Marx statue in Chemnitz, Saxony. In a similar fashion to US Confederate statues, some have asked to remove the statue because of the racist remarks Marx has made in his lifetime.[4]

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 DuvalierWikipedia of Haiti, and Rafael TrujilloWikipedia 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 as 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 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.Wikipedia If not, too bad.[notes 7]

A frequent argument by Marxists[edit]

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... Sci-fi?[edit]

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.[5] 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. Star Trek would be a famous example in which an idea like this is explored (very vaguely, admittedly) by the time of the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, given that virtually everything can be automated with the replicator. Money is said to no longer exist, with people simply working to improve themselves and the rest of the human race.

Marx's bigotry[edit]

Those who read Marx in depth will notice the repeated and sometimes extreme prejudice involved in his insults and general opinions. Many modern Marxists try to deny his racism. It should of course be remembered that everyone is a product of their times, and Marx was no exception. Marx exposed deep prejudices in both personal letters and in his published writing. He expressed anti-Semitic, anti-Slavic, and anti-Black beliefs. He also appeared to have fallen for the pseudoscience of phrenology as well.[6]

Most controversial of his bigotries was Marx’s anti-semitism. Despite Marx’s Jewish heritage, Marx didn’t identify as a Jew and wasn’t raised as one. He went on to write disdainful comments on Jews throughout his career. ”On the Jewish Question"[7], in which he argues against Bruno Bauer that a secular state would not emancipate people from their material conditions, is often considered his most anti-semitic work (though some may contest this). More anti-semitism can be found in further writings and correspondences. He described Jews as greedy[8], and once referred to them as “leper people.”[9] Later anti-semitic anti-capitalists such as Werner Sombart, who was himself a, 'scientific racist', credited Marx's anti-Semitism as inspiration.[10]

Some scholars claim Marx was not anti-semitic, that he was being sarcastic, or that he wasn’t that bad. For example, Hal Draper, argued that Marx was not particularly anti-Semitic for his time, as he claims the word, "Jew" being almost synonymous with, "usurer", at the time and place Marx wrote. Draper also argues that Marx's main problems with Jews was Judaism, and not the people themselves. Alternatively, Paul Johnson made the argument that Marx not only was particularly anti-semitic, but radically so, and expanded growing vulgarization against the Jewish religion among German idealists, and that his antisemitism was used as draft-work for later economic theories.[11] Johnson claims Marx extended his anti-semitism which he inherited into something beyond earlier anti-semitism, something which, incorporated the "entire bourgeois class".

Like virtually all Europeans of his era, Marx viewed those of African ancestry as more primitive than most other races.[12] For example, he said Black people were “a degree nearer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us” [13][14] and he referred to people with racial epithets. [15] Despite his racism, Marx was also in favor of the abolition of slavery.

Marx wrote that he distrusted Russians and generally disdained Eastern Europeans.[16][17][18] Marx was also sort of pro-imperialism, seeing it as a natural and necessary stage in the evolution of world political economy. He wrote that he felt England had a duty to annihilate “old Asiatic society” in India.[19]

Marx's influence today[edit]

The good[edit]

  • 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,[20] but never brought it up during his campaign; he also never became POTUS, the poor bastard.
  • The threat of Marxist revolution scared a lot of governments into making positive reforms for the working class. People in power generally don't make concessions to people without power out of the goodness of their hearts...

The neutral[edit]

  • Marx is still taught and studied in academia, and his influence is still felt in the study of sociology, political science, philosophy, and more.

The bad[edit]

  • A hefty amount of strongmen from the "somewhat tolerable if you're desperate" to the "unfathomably horrific" have justified their abuses by referring to his work. It happens too often when Marx-derived ideologies are implemented to be a regrettable coincidence.
  • The spread of reformist ideologies like Social Democracy has made Marx's revolutionary politics—the belief that the only way to improve lives for the bottom half of society is armed revolution—appear less relevant in the modern day.

Marx versus Marxists[edit]

Whatever you may think of Marx and his fanclub, he did at the very least condemn the fanaticism when he witnessed it. A rather famous quote of Karl Marx reads:[21]

"What is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist." (Originally in French: Ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste.)

He said this in reaction to Jules Guesde, a leader of French workers and vanguard of French Marxism, who visited Marx in London 1880. They had a disagreement about the political programme written for the Parti Ouvrier (Labour Party), in what seems to be the case in which Marx was in favor of pragmatic achievements within capitalism while his cult didn't want any reasonable concessions but just concern-troll the opposition (Marx called it "revolutionary phrase-mongering"). As a joke question: Would Marx oppose Bernie-or-Bust?

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. 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 WorksWikipedia 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.
  2. 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".
  3. 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
  4. Unless, maybe, you also consider some argument about the supposed "moral superiority" of anti-communist regimes. But even that argument is debatable.
  5. 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 Timor-Leste, 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.
  6. Unless one counts the Paris CommuneWikipedia of 1871, which was crushed by the reactionaries in less than two months, or the Spanish RevolutionWikipedia of the Spanish Civil War, which was ironically crushed by so-called communists, or the Hungarian RevolutionWikipedia, 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
  7. 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.“

References[edit]

  1. 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. Retrieved 2017-07-23. "[...] there are those who recognize, with Emile James, that Marx was the greatest economist of the nineteenth century,” [...]." 
  2. 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. 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)." 
  3. Interpretations of On the Jewish QuestionWikipedia on Wikipedia
  4. https://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/nach-protesten-in-den-usa-statuen-von-bismarck-oder-marx-wegen-rassismus-vorwuerfen-abbauen-so-denken-die-buerger_id_12111877.html
  5. Marx on automation
  6. SOCIAL DEMOCRACY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: A REALIST ALTERNATIVE TO THE MODERN LEFT. Marx’s Phrenology and Racial Views. APRIL 26, 2015.
  7. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question/
  8. https://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/features-on-jewish-world/karl-marx-a-self-hating-jew/2019/05/08/
  9. https://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/features-on-jewish-world/karl-marx-a-self-hating-jew/2019/05/08/
  10. https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/paul-johnson-3/marxism-vs-the-jews/
  11. https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/paul-johnson-3/marxism-vs-the-jews/
  12. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271216034_In_the_Interests_of_Civilization_Marxist_Views_of_Race_and_Culture_in_the_Nineteenth_Century
  13. https://www.newsherald.com/story/opinion/2020/08/16/many-marxists-dont-realize-their-hero-racist-and-anti-semite/3369024001/
  14. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13569317.2019.1548094
  15. http://hiaw.org/defcon6/works/1862/letters/62_07_30a.html
  16. https://books.google.ch/books?id=FH-LCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT208&lpg=PT208&dq=I+do+not+trust+any+Russian.+As+soon+as+a+Russian+worms+his+way+in,+all+hell+breaks+loose.&source=bl&ots=mR1RfXqLqs&sig=ACfU3U1FGNu-dhds0z-NW75raMtyITBiAw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjeqs7zpf_qAhXGThUIHRZ4A6oQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=I%20do%20not%20trust%20any%20Russian.%20As%20soon%20as%20a%20Russian%20worms%20his%20way%20in%2C%20all%20hell%20breaks%20loose.&f=false
  17. https://www.international-communist-party.org/English/Texts/53FaRNen.htm
  18. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/subject/russia/crimean-war.htm
  19. https://marxists.catbull.com/archive/marx/works/1853/07/22.htm
  20. https://ourfuture.org/20150817/bernie-sanders-proposes-to-boost-worker-ownership-of-companies
  21. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm#n5