Positive Myths about Karl Marx
It may seem like a waste of time to write about Karl Marx considering that some – or even many – people think that Marxism is long dead and gone.
Long dead and gone? Sure, revolutionary socialism is not quite as hip and omnipresent as it was in the 1970s/60s and before. However, Marxism itself -- or at least Marxist theories, commitments and causes -- is far from dead.
In addition, it is indeed the case that many Leftists no longer believe that a violent revolution (after which literally everything will be transformed for the better) will be forthcoming in the immediate future. But, then again, Marxists have believed that -- at least in the US and UK -- since the 1930s. In other words, many Western Marxists/Leftists gave up on revolution some 60 years before the fall of the Soviet Union and its empire.
So although violent revolution was indeed an important -- Trotskyists still say essential -- part of the Marxist project; others argue that there is so much more to Marxism than (violent) revolution. Indeed Marx himself, in his later life, had some second thoughts about the necessity of a violent revolution (at least in the case of Great Britain) to overthrow the “capitalist system”.
Cook-shops of the Future & Centralization
Marxists/Leftists repeatedly tell us that Marx didn't “write recipes for the cook-shops of the future” (in Marx's own words). They say that despite the fact it that the entirety of Marx's communist project is based on prophesies about – and plans for -- the future.
Marx said that he didn't offer such “recipes” primarily in order to distance himself from what he called “Utopian socialists”. He wanted to paint himself as a “scientific theorist”.
Marx did offer this, amongst many others, recipe for the future:
“In a communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulated the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner....”
Here are some more of Marx's other recipes for the cook-shops of the future:
i) That sometime after the revolution, society would become stateless: i.e., the state would simply “wither away”.
ii) Marx claimed that in a communist society there would be more leisure time, more time for education and that everyone would participate in the running of society.
iii) Marx believed that in a communist society there would be no more prostitution. (According to Marx, prostitution is a product of capitalism.)
iv) Marx stated that in a communist society there would no longer be any competition between people. (Again, Marx believed that capitalism created competition - not only in the “market place”; but everywhere else too.)
v) Marx believed that there would be no “false consciousness” and no exploitation in a communist society.
Many Marxists (not just “left communists”) argue that Marxism, or communism, is not about state control and centralization. According to Marx it is.
Marx believed that all industries should be centralized. That is, owned by the state. Marx also believed that all goods and services should be produced by the state and that what he called “over-production”(i.e., production not controlled by the state) should be ended. In addition, Marx believed that all banks should be owned by the state (i.e., centralized).
All this goes against the Leftists who argue that communism is about “workers' control of the means of production” and, sometimes, “communist federalism”.
In The Principles of Communism (replicated in the Communist Manifesto), written by Engels in 1847, the extreme and all-encompassing level of this communist centralization is thoroughly Stalinist (or Marxist!) in nature.
Here's a list, from that book, of what must occur in a communist society/state:
i) The abolition of private property.
ii) The central organization of wages for workers on the land and in factories.
iii) The nationalization of transport.
iv) Private banks were to be erased and superseded by centralized or state banks.
v) The state would own all factories, workshops, farms, etc.
vi) All education was to be centralized or state-controlled and funded by the state. (There was to be no more private education.)
The Vanguard & the Dictatorship of the Proletariat
Louis Blanqui (1805-81) coined the phrase “the dictatorship of the proletariat”; as well as the notion -- not the word -- “vanguard”. Like Marx (as well as Lenin later), Blanqui believed that there would never be a revolution unless professional (bourgeois) revolutionaries carried out that revolution “on behalf of the workers”.
Some Marxists -- though not all! -- have disputed the view that Marx had precisely this view of the revolutionary vanguard. Nonetheless, Marx did say contradictory things about this. On the one hand, Marx claimed that such a revolutionary vanguard wouldn't be needed simply because a revolution would be the “inevitable” result of the contradictions within -- and the breakdown of -- capitalist society. Yet on the other hand, he also said that a vanguard will be required to help this process along.
In terms of Marx's own dictatorial nature, it has been said (by many biographers and commentators) that Marx didn't like to belong to organizations he didn't control. And once within an organization, Marx tried to control literally everything it did.
After seizing control of the International Working Men's Association (the International) from mainly genuine workers, as well as rejecting all the previous proposed attempts at writing its constitution, Marx wrote the constitution himself. And after that, he wrote these ironic words in the inaugural address for that constitution:
“The emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working class themselves.”
It can be seen that just as Marx did indeed demand a centralized communist state with almost everything in its hands, he also fought for the centralization of the International too.
As has been well documented, the anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin wanted the International to be run as a federation of semi-independent bodies. Marx's wanted it to be completely centralized and under his own personal control. Thus Marx had Bakunin and his supporters expelled from the International.
As for the actual words “the dictatorship of the proletariat”: Marxists either deny that he used such words or say that he didn't mean what many people (i.e., non-Marxists) think he meant.
Marxists also attempt to excuse this notion in all sorts of other ways. (Or at least they did after the horrors of Lenin and Stalin became widely known in the West.) One such way Marxists do so it to argue that Marx didn't mean a dictatorship by a single dictator. Rather, they say that Marx based the idea on the model of the Roman dictatura. That is, in times of crisis (or of “revolutionary upheaval”), an elite (or a “revolutionary vanguard”) is permitted to establish a dictatorship.
Despite all that, it's quite natural that Marxists should defend and excuse the notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (i.e., the dictatorship of the communist party/vanguard) because it is in fact a natural consequence of Marx's views. That is, because Marx believed that capitalist society was itself a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” (Marx's own words), then it is only natural and right that the workers (as represented by a middle-class vanguard) should establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. This means that communist/socialist dictatorships arose naturally from Marx's theories.
Lenin, in his The State and Revolution (1917), asserted that the dictatorship of the proletariat is an “exercise of power without law”. That phrase fits perfectly well with Marx's own theories. What I mean by that is just as Marx believed that capitalist society is the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, so he also believed that law is capitalist law (something he stated many times).
(The same goes for Marx and Marxists discounting “bourgeois morality” and bourgeois this and that for that matter.)
Lenin also argued that a “class dictatorship” is necessary and that force should be used against all the “enemies of the revolution”. So did Marx. For example, in the very early days Marx said that all “rebels” against the communist state should be firmly dealt with. In other works, he used even stronger language.
From a Marxist perspective, violence against capitalists -- and against literally all the “enemies of the revolution” -- is fully understandable. After all, according to Marx himself (in his “scientific” Das Kapital), all capitalists are “vampires” and “werewolves”. And to this day Marxist groups (such as the UK's Socialist Workers Party) often talk of “smashing” this and that group. Communist/Trotskyist groups (just like Nazi/fascist groups) still see “capitalists” -- and indeed all their political enemies -- as, well, subhumans; or, in their own often-used words, “filth” and “scum”.