The Trouble with Marx

Given that communism has collapsed in Europe, is criticism of Marxism flogging a dead horse? Koestler correctly argues we should not worry about causing cruelty to dead animals. Moreover, the Marxist stallion is still breathing and kicking in China, Vietnam, Cuba, N. Korea, Laos and Ethiopia.

No secular philosopher had a more profound effect on human history than did Karl Marx. As a revolutionary thinker, Marx ranks with Freud, Darwin and Einstein. Moreover, his ideas shaped the destiny of hundreds of millions of people around the world. By contrast, no-one has sacrificed their life or been killed fighting for or against the ideas of any scientific thinker.

Marx did not live to see his ideas put into practice. Undoubtedly, he would have been horrified by the crimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Marx once said, "I would not join a club that would have me." Perhaps Karl would emulate his Grouchy namesake with regard to Marx-ism if he lived now.

Rather than debating the finer points of Marxist theory, I'll focus on just two main aspects, one political, the other economic.

In the political sphere, Marx imagined that the dictatorship of the proletariat would usher in a golden age, and that the state would wither away. On the economic front, he believed that a state-run and state-owned economy would take from each according to his ability and give to each according to his needs.

Firstly, Marx did not grasp one of the laws of politics, namely that a group of people who seize absolute power will ultimately use it for their own ends, rather than in the service of the ideas they profess to serve. Instead of withering away, each communist state grew into a monster.

Secondly, Marx had no idea how inhuman a totalitarian system becomes in practice. He did not realise that it inevitably suppresses all independent activity, curtails the lives of its citizens and makes dishonesty a pervasive feature of society.

A planned economy with public ownership of all resources is a sensible idea. Unfortunately, it does not work well in reality, being wasteful and inefficient. Without the incentives that exist in a free-enterprise system, people are not motivated to innovate and work hard. In full socialism peoples' material aspirations are limited by the system, and the whole economy suffers.

In addition, central planning causes shortages and gluts because it is unresponsive to market forces, which are the expression of peoples' needs.

In summary, the communist system as it works in practice is very different from Marxist theory. Under communism ideology matters, but people and their aspirations for a better life do not.

Tad Boniecki
October 2016

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