Karl Marx is a dead, white European male. You’d think this would be sufficient to make liberals dislike him, but the opposite is true. Did Marx know in 1848 when he wrote the Communist Manifesto, or in 1867 when he wrote Das Kapital, that these writings would have a profound effect on the world for the next 150 years? Could he have foreseen that Marxism would be the root cause of over 100 million deaths in the 20th Century? My wife wonders if the knowledge of these deaths would have mattered to him. I find it ironic that a man who could not manage his own finances and who blew through two inheritances could be given any credence in matters financial, but many people still believe in the fundamental principles of Marxism.
Marx wrote that it is historically inevitable for societies to pass through several stages: feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and finally the workers’ paradise. A feudalist society is one where might makes right and the few “haves” dominate over the “have-nots” like barons over their serfs. In a capitalist society, the individual is important, and contract law makes business possible. The socialist society is concerned with the group over the individual, and the role of government expands to control more and more of the lives and business of the people. The workers’ paradise is the final step in Marx’s vision of society. At this stage the rulers step aside as the workers take control over their lives and their work. A heart-warming, rosy glow surrounds everything as the workers march arm-in-arm off into the sunrise of a new and glorious day.
There is just one problem with Marx’s inevitable march from feudalism to capitalism to socialism and the final joy of the workers’ paradise — it’s a crock of @#$%!
Marxism is a failure because it does not take into account the fundamental reasons how and why people work. If you watch slaves or serfs, you will notice that they work only as fast as the whip of their master compels them, and not one bit faster or further. A slave or serf requires a large amount of control in the form of overseers and bosses. On the other hand, a person who is free and able to benefit from his work will work harder and look for ways to improve his job. A peasant in ancient China had no way of changing his position in life, so inventing a better plow or ox harness would not improve his lot in any way. But in a free society, a baker who creates a new type of bread or a printer who invents a faster way of setting type can expect to do more business and increase profits; a slave or serf does not.
You could say that capitalism is similar to the scientific method. When scientists announce they have proven something new, they will publish their experiment for others to duplicate. If others can reproduce the same results, the new method or theory is accepted. But if someone makes a claim, as in the case of cold fusion, and no one else can duplicate the results, then the theory can be said to be disproved, or at least in a state of not yet being proven. In the years since Marx wrote his ideas, the “inevitable” workers’ paradise has never been successfully achieved. While many countries have moved along the path to socialism, not one has made the final switch to the workers’ paradise. A common response to this complaint is that Marxism has never really been implemented yet. Well, various nations on this planet have only been trying it for the last 150 years, so how much more time and testing is necessary? The scientific community did not take 150 years to disprove Ponds and Fleischman’s claims of cold fusion, so why should it take more than a century to disprove the claims of Marxism? But Marxists will not allow their belief in the system to be destroyed — they cling to it as faithfully as a religion.
Marxism is a philosophy that is applied by its adherents to economics, production, workers and their relationships, government, and much more. In my wife’s English class last term, the professor instructed the students in the Marxist interpretation of literature. As I see it, if the only tool you have is a hammer, before long all your jobs start looking like nails.
But regardless of what Marx said, not everything hinges on money; it hinges on power. Money is merely a unit of power — the power to procure the goods and services that you want and need. My wife has written a wonderful analysis and interpretation of Marx and his ideas that, IMO, is well worth reading.
Marxism is a failure because it fails to depict reality. Marx said that socialism would make way for the workers’ paradise, but in reality dictators never give up their power voluntarily. Can you think of any dictators who have willingly walked away from power? My wife believes that Marx was no dummy. He didn’t talk about how the workers’ paradise would come about. The very concept of the workers’ paradise was sufficient to agitate the common workers into obeying Marx’s pronouncements and achieving his goals. He dangled this carrot so like-minded people could manipulate them as useful idiots. My wife’s idea is that Marx didn’t specify how the workers’ paradise would be created precisely because Marx didn’t intend for it to happen. Instead, Marx wrote up a road map for ruthless people like himself to exploit the working masses in order to gain power. This is why socialism was taken to the communist extreme so easily in many nations. None of these nations have had anywhere near the financial success of smaller capitalist countries. This is a simple indication of the difference between a free and an enslaved population.
Capitalism is very much like Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity. Under most normal circumstances, Newton’s law works very well indeed; it only breaks down when things reach extremes: in the realms of the super-small such as atoms and subatomic particles, the very large such as suns or bigger celestial bodies, or the very fast such as speeds approaching light speed. Likewise, capitalism tends to fail at extremes: when there is no authority to guarantee contract compliance, or when there are excessive government regulations and controls. But other than these extreme circumstances, both capitalism and Newton’s law of gravity work very well. Socialism, however, barely functions at its best. The Soviet Union was constantly plagued by food and goods shortages. Cuba is surrounded by ocean, yet it has a chronic shortage of fish. North Koreans are starving. Even Sweden, arguably the most successful socialist country, is showing signs of internal rot. P.J. O’Rourke outlines the situation in Sweden and other countries in his fine book, Eat the Rich.
The bottom line on Marxism is simple: it doesn’t work, it has never worked in the past 150 years, and it is about time for its adherents to acknowledge that Marxism will not work in the future, either. But this isn’t going to happen. Whenever you hear someone say, “Marxism/Socialism has never really been properly tried yet,” you know you are in the presence of someone for whom Marxism is a religion, not open to criticism or logical debate. Thomas Sowell summed this attitude up at the end of Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?: “Someone once said that an idea which fails repeatedly may possibly be wrong…. There are still many true believers to whom all evidence is irrelevant.”