Primo: The Cerberean Conception
Since it's almost become a cliché to observe that Marxism is dead in practice – that is, if you overlook its authoritarian half-life in China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam – but thriving in theory, we can at least ask exactly what that theory is, a question that returns three very different answers:
Some should get all of the pie. This is classic manual-labor theory of value Marx: Since the manual laborers produce all wealth, anyone else who has any wealth must be leeching off that labor. Every slice and crumb of the pie belongs to "the workers" who baked it, i.e., all wealth must be redistributed to the proletariat. This is why Communism eventually adopted the hammer-and-sickle as its emblem. (An embarrassing choice, by the way, for what those tools really represent is the investment of capital. A truer symbol of the manual-labor theory would have been simply a pair of dirty hands, a fact ironically reflected in the Bolshevik workers' term of derision for the Party's nonworker majority: beloruchki -- "white hands.")
All should get some of the pie. This is Critique of the Gotha Program Marx: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Now those slices and crumbs belong, not to the bakers, but to the hungry, i.e., wealth must be redistributed from the proletariat to the poor. (An earlier variant of this was the proposal that each should get an equal slice of the pie, with everyone working equally and compensated so.)
None should get any of the pie. This is the Marx of The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. "[W]e don't want a communist society," paraphrases a Green disciple, "where people greedily redistribute the wealth of capitalism; we want a society where the craving for wealth has been overcome by a more fully realized state of human being." The pie belongs to no one, and all slices and crumbs must be redistributed away from anyone and everyone. The people will no longer want (or even need?) pie either here on Earth or in the sky, for their "obsession with Having" will be superseded "by a fulfilled condition of Being."
The upshot of all this should have been obvious from the start: Marx sired a monster whose three heads each pull in a different direction. What was going to tear itself apart with "contradictions" was not market capitalism but this tripolar concept of "socialism." We are to believe -- what? That each one of these incompatible theses is an example of how "[j]ust as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic matter, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history"? That the assembler of this pile of inconsistencies -- who obscurantly dismissed critical analysis as "not a scalpel but a weapon. Its object is the enemy, [whom] it wishes not to refute but to destroy" -- was a scientific theorist? That Je ne suis pas marxiste! was ever anything other than the cry of a schizophrenic zealot?
We cannot let it go without note that while Darwin never falsified data, Marx did -- chronically. As early as the 1880s, Cambridge scholars demonstrated that Marx manipulated source materials "with a recklessness which is appalling ... to prove just the contrary of what they really establish." One example will suffice. He prophesied: "In proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the laborer must grow worse. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery ... at the opposite pole." But did the statistics for wages actually show workers growing poorer as their employers grew richer? Not at all, so in 1867's Das Kapital he jettisoned the contemporary figures and passed off as contemporary those from 1850.
We behold in Marx a man who evidently could accept being contradicted by himself, but not by reality. So war dieser Mann der Wissenschaft. An epitaph appropriate for those who exalted him, in contrast, remains elusive.
Secondo: A Seemingly Heretical Development
"In all the socialist literature I had read," ex-New Leftist David Horowitz once wrote, "there was not a chapter devoted to the problem of how wealth is created. Socialist theory was exclusively addressed to ... the division of wealth that someone else had created." Far from being anything that should have surprised him or anyone else, this was, in the words of Austrian school economist Murray Rothbard, something that had "been almost openly proclaimed by Karl Marx, who conceded that socialism" -- in any of its manifestations -- "must be established through seizure of capital previously accumulated under capitalism." Remember Marx's historicism: Just as feudalism created the conditions for capitalism, so would the latter create the conditions for socialism, one of which was the prerequisite wealth. Capitalism, he acknowledged, "during its rule of scarcely one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together." Considering that these were centuries of almost nothing but manual labor, Marx's observation should have been recognized instantly by everyone as a trenchant refutation of his own theory of value (and its barbaric "class war" implications). Be that as it tragically may, Marxist theory is clear on at least this point: first capitalism, then socialism.
What happened to Marxist practice? The answer is not a what but a who: the non-Western European Marxists. What were these socialists supposed to do -- devote their lives to the construction of a capitalist economy in the hope that it would ultimately be riven by "contradictions" and therefore overthrown by their great-grandchildren? Marx's historicism had made socialist revolution in their lifetime a virtual impossibility for their pre-capitalist corner of the world. None too surprisingly, ideological necessity soon gave birth (by Alexander Helphand -- "Parvus") to the invention of "permanent revolution," the theory that revolutionaries anywhere could speed straight past History's capitalist stage to its socialist conclusion.
Alas, the doctrine was a disaster, as its first (accountable-to-nobody) practitioners admitted to themselves:
Lenin ... conceded that his critics before the Revolution had been right in arguing that Russia needed a long period of capitalist development before she would be ready for socialism, let alone communism. He did not spell out how long he believed the NEP [New Economic Policy, a measure of market liberalization] would last; but he hinted that it would not be abandoned soon. [historian Richard Pipes]
Rothbard even went so far as to speculate that "Lenin's favorite theoretician, [Nikolai] Bukharin, would have extended [it] onwards towards a free market."
Bukharin, ironically, met the same fate as the NEP itself: liquidation at the hands of Stalin, who also buried Marx's historicism. He is more than anyone else responsible for the transformation of "socialism" from capitalism's historical successor to its practical alternative and moral superior. It is this Stalinism that became the "Marxism" of all socialists thereafter. It was the Marxism that Horowitz himself encountered everywhere from the pages of Trotskyite Isaac Deutscher to the peroration of a self-designated "democratic socialist" sandalista. And yet not a single Leftist could ever bring himself to state the obvious: "We are all Stalinists now."
This change in theory could not help but have consequences for practice (that is, of the type that had already been acknowledged even by Lenin). Socialism, a tool designed to "socialize" (i.e., confiscate, not create) wealth, was now put towards an opposite end -- rather like harvesting wheat with a gun instead of a sickle. (And certainly a crossed Colt and ice pick would have made a fitting Communist emblem.) Destitution, including famine, was the predictable -- and prevailing -- outcome. But the matter is more than "economics." Marx had noted the connection between the rise of private property and the rise of civil liberty, another of his observations whose implications should have been recognized immediately, viz., what the abolition of private property would mean to this connection -- and later, transposed to Marxism-Stalinism, what the pre-capitalist absence of private property would portend for it. Without the patrimony of liberal capitalism's wealth and freedom, what would be left for socialism but poverty and tyranny?
It might be tempting to compare "Marxianity" and its Stalinist heresy to Christianity and the Marcionite heresy, which rejected the Old Testament. But whereas Christianity would have been rendered incoherent by Marcionism, "Marxianity," with its multiplicity of creeds, was able to shift to absorb Stalinism. If socialist poverty could not fulfill Marx's promises to the proletariat or the poor, it did fulfill his prophecy of the ascetic society. Consequently, both the Soviets and their putative New Left opponents in the West came to embrace the 1844 Marx as "their" Marx. As novelist-essayist Ayn Rand quipped: "The old-line Marxists used to claim that a single modern factory could produce enough shoes to provide for the whole population of the world and that nothing but capitalism prevented it. When they discovered the facts of reality involved, they declared that going barefoot is superior to wearing shoes." Indeed, what is footwear compared to "a fulfilled condition of Being"?
Socialist tyranny was also reconcilable with scripture. Not the apostasy of Stalin or even Lenin, the rejection of political liberty was an article of faith that traced all the way back to the divine Marx and Engels, the latter condemning it as "sham-liberty, the worst possible slavery; the appearance of liberty and therefore the reality of servitude." One Marxian theologian, George Lukacs, explained the connection between the evils of worldly possessions and worldly freedom:
The "freedom" of the men [under capitalism] is the freedom of the individuals isolated by the fact of property which both reifies and is itself reified. It is a freedom vis-à-vis the other (no less isolated) individuals. A freedom of the egoist, of the man who cuts himself off from others.
Robinson Crusoe? There, but for the grace of the Communist gods, go you and I.
(How can the nature of private property be both one of isolation, as asserted here, and one of parasitism, as asserted elsewhere? Perhaps we shouldn't be too shocked that conflicting conceptions of socialism engender contradictory indictments of capitalism.)
But if the Communists had waited until Russia or China became a fully liberal-capitalist society, they no more would have triumphed there than they did in America. Stalinism emerged as the dominant creed, the most real socialism of all, because it is the only one that Marxists can embrace practically -- and psychologically: What socialist soul could condemn himself to a living hell of capitalism, even as a necessary evil for the movement?
Terzo: Identity Crisis
While many adherents of the Left made their peace with the poverty and tyranny of the Communist bloc, some did not, which to this day poses the question: How can these people continue to believe socialism a corrective for all the wrongs they denounce -- we can recall Ralph Miliband's classic Marxoid list of exploitation, poverty, war, imperialism, and the "crimes of the ruling classes" -- when these always exist pervasively in those People's Republics where every drop of capitalism, their hypothesized source, has been wrung from the social fabric? It's not so much that they close their eyes as it is that they avert them -- towards a sight in which they believe they find confirmation: the presence of these wrongs in the "capitalist West."
And who can deny it? Who can deny, say, the West's imperialism? But with this and the other stated evils, we must ask: What element of the semi-capitalist West was responsible -- the free market or the coercive state? In Britain, who thundered the loudest against colonialism? The classical liberal advocates of laissez faire, who condemned imperialism long before the birth of the founder of the Soviet Empire. It was the "Tory socialism" of Disraeli, not the free market, that sent British troops overseas.
And the "crimes of the ruling classes"? What were these ever but the deeds, not of truly private businessmen, but of the State? What does Ralph Nader's denunciation of "corporate socialism" concede except that the corporations owe their current privileges, not to laissez faire, but to government intervention? Which leads us to now ask: What exactly is the "capitalism" of these anti-capitalists? Is it "Little England"-ism or mercantilist imperialism? Free trade or protectionism? Laissez faire or interventionism -- A or non-A? Just as theocracy cannot denote both the union and the separation of Church and State, so capitalism cannot be both the union and the separation of Firm and State.
Orthodox Marxism cynically -- amorally -- rejected the possibility of neutrality and equity in political matters. All government was the special interest of one "class" or another. Just as capitalism ushered in the rule of the bourgeoisie, so would socialism bring about the "dictatorship of the proletariat." But how does capitalism -- that is, the free market -- represent the special interest of "capitalists" (i.e., nonmanual laborers)? If respect for property rights favors "capitalists," then why do corporations seek subsidies (each for its own self, mind you, not for the entirety of its purported "class")? If unregulated commerce leads to monopolization by these "capitalists," then why do real-world businessmen turn to government to provide them with monopoly entitlements (optimally, only for their own company, not for all "capitalists" including their competitors)? And if free trade benefits this class and no other, then why do each country's business leaders -- and union members -- lobby for tariffs on imports? We seem to forget that the classical liberals formulated their principles of private property, laissez faire, and free trade -- rejected by the Left and Big Business alike -- not against the graspings of the have-nots, but in opposition to policies that favored the few over the common good. All of the classic Marxoid evils existed before the advent of liberal capitalism, which arose specifically to eliminate them -- and did so most impressively. Social scientist Thomas Sowell sums up capitalism's economic and political contributions by the end of the nineteenth century:
Science and technology had brought undreamed-of progress to the lives of millions of human beings. Whether in agriculture or industry, output was growing by leaps and bounds. Mass killer diseases like smallpox were being defeated by medical science. The last great war to ravage the whole continent of Europe ended 85 years earlier, at Waterloo -- and such horrors were considered permanently behind us. Advances in the relationships among peoples showed similar signs of progress. Slavery, which had lasted for thousands of years on all continents, was wiped out throughout Western civilization, in a matter of decades.
He laments: "The high hopes and expectations with which the twentieth century began gave no inkling" of what was to come -- the abandonment of limited government and the adoption, the bloody rise, of unlimited statism, most notably (in various forms) that of Marx, whose attributing of ancient evils to the emergent liberal order (and its "sham-liberty") was as absolutely insane as attributing polio to the Salk vaccine.
Equally mad are those Marxists who point to the very real problems of partial statism ("state capitalism") but then perversely propose a tried-and-false "solution" -- total statism (socialism) -- that would only exacerbate those problems. It's as if having recognized the danger of drinking polluted water but misidentifying the dangerous element, the Left advocated consumption of the undiluted pollutant. The failings of the mixed economy don't confirm but confute the claims of socialism. It is the State, not the free market, that doles out political privileges -- whether to the nomenklatura or the corporations. And it is the State that condemns whole populations to poverty -- as witness activist Russell Means' comparison of Native Americans, our country's most socialized community, to the citizens of the Soviet Empire.
In the conflict between monopoly statism and the many organs of the body social (i.e., of a free people), the Left habitually made the malignant choice.
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