The Marxist's Paradox

In people's perception, both revolutionaries and laypersons, Marxism has always been the theory of socialism and a call for revolution.  However, this is a misconception or even an urban myth regarding genuine, orthodox Marxism.  The false understanding of Marxism was implemented in our subconscious, first of all, by founders of Marxism themselves.  They exhibited profound inconsistency between the tenets of their theory and their political activities.  Secondly, Soviet propaganda replaced the true meaning of Marxism with its revisionist version, Marxism-Leninism.

First of all, Marxism is a theory of communism — the extreme and particular case of socialism, characterized by the complete socialization of property, complete collectivization of consciousness, worldwide economic planning, and wealth distribution according to any needs.  Socialism, as a rule, did not set itself such daunting tasks.  There are multiple approaches to socialism and just one theory of communism.  The doctrine of communism could neither encompass all ideas of the diverse socialist camp nor even be portrayed as the only accurate representation of socialist thoughts.

To the great surprise of many, orthodox Marxism is a concept of the evolution of human society rather than a theory of revolution.  Marx never explicitly called the workers to the barricades; his materialist conception of history merely explained why communism would inevitably replace capitalism.  He understood revolution as a qualitative change in the societal mode of production, not as a violent event like the French Revolution.  He advertised his teaching as a revolutionary breakthrough in the understanding of historical and societal processes.  Indeed, one does not need to be equipped with the comprehensive theory of societal evolution in order to commit a revolutionary putsch.

The founders of Marxism understood that the revolution could not be fomented at will.  Engels pointed out in Principles of Communism that communists "know all too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that, everywhere and always, they have been the necessary consequence of conditions which were wholly independent of the will and direction of individual parties and entire classes."  Therefore, the prediction and predetermination of a revolution signify neither a call for a revolution nor its incitement.

Originators of Marxism demonstrated far-reaching contradictions in their public activities and theoretical works, which could be considered somewhat paradoxical.  The "Marx paradox" is as follows: on the one hand, Marx claimed the discovery of the laws of human societal development, but on the other hand, he was reluctant to use them in his daily life as a philosopher, sociologist, and economist.  It is rather a strange situation, like Isaac Newton discovering the laws of motion and not using them in solving theoretical and everyday problems.

Marx should have supported classical liberals in their effort to squeeze the most from capitalism, to run it to the highest point, where assumed intrinsic contradictions of capitalism reach a point of no return, and the new social formation would be born.  This would have been Marx's consistent behavior if he had followed his own materialist conception of history.  Instead, Marx took an active part in various political activities, from establishing the International Workingmen's Association (First International) to editing a program of the German Socialist Party.  Marx and Engels also acted as educators striving for the emancipation of the working class, instigation of its self-consciousness as a future agent of the historical process.

Such a paradox can be explained by the fact that Marx was a revolutionary activist first and a philosopher second, or rather he was a second-grade philosopher (his philosophical and economic provisions were entirely rebuffed by such prominent representatives of Austrian School of Economics as Böhm von Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, Hans-Hermann Hoppe and falsified by experience).  Marx started his anti-capitalism crusade long before he had crystallized his economic and philosophical doctrine.  Only in more mature years did he begin following his theoretical tenets more rigorously.  He considered the financial demands of socialists and trade unionists to be the obstacles that inhibited the evolution of capitalism and, thus, postponed the victory of communism.

Marxism gave the socialists hope that revolutionary changes were about to occur.  The Left was waiting for the hiccups that Marx prescribed to arise in capitalism, and when their expectations had not been realized for a considerable duration of time and according to Marx's recipe, they declared a crisis of Marxism.  How did the Left overcome the crisis?  The leading theoreticians of the Left started a revision of certain provisions of Marxism.

Some of those non-conformist revisionists were the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin.  Unlike other revisionists, they portrayed Marxism-Leninism as the logical development of orthodox Marxism in times of imperialism.  However, in reality, they rejected two main provisions of Marxism: Marx designated a mass proletariat movement as an agent of change, whereas Lenin replaced it with a vanguard revolutionary party; Marx theorized the coming of communism simultaneously in all industrial countries, but the Bolsheviks strove for a revolution in a single agrarian country.  The revisionism of genuine Marxism undertaken by the Bolsheviks preached a violent overthrowing of power.

Since the Bolshevik Revolution, Marxism-Leninism had started to occupy a central role in socialist thought and even had become synonymous with the socialist movement for some time.  The Bolsheviks eradicated their companions from early on — Revolutionary Socialists, Mensheviks, Trotskyists, and Anarcho-Communists — and established a dictatorship that outlawed any other political views.  Leninism contaminated the notion of Marxism and socialism in general.  The communist propaganda labeled other currents of socialism as utopian, unscientific, vulgar, social-fascist, and in general as enemies of the working class.

After World War II, the Soviet Union further strengthened its position as the only correct bearer of genuine socialist and communist rhetoric.  Italian fascists and national socialists of Germany annihilated Social Democrats, Anarchists, and Communists in their respective countries.  In turn, the Soviets crushed fascism and Nazism and gained a monopoly on socialist thoughts within the controlled territory of Eastern Europe.  Marxism-Leninism had become the only legitimate remainder of the Left's movements, as victors on both military and ideological fronts.  The gigantic communist propaganda machine tirelessly shaped public opinion within the Soviet Union, in the socialist camp, and most importantly in Western countries.  Thus, over the course of 70 years of brutal ideological wars, Marxism-Leninism eclipsed the authentic provisions of orthodox Marxism, as well as other currents of socialism.  The truth is that Marxism-Leninism is not the original Marxism.

When the modern Left (especially in the United States) argues that genuine Marxian socialism has not been realized yet in any country, including the Soviet Union, it is a bit right.  However, leftists use this argument to prove that the socialist idea is not a dead end in the evolution of mankind, but is alive and striving.  A failure of institutionalized socialist regimes is explained as a betrayal of great Marxian ideas by negligent intellectuals and practitioners of socialism of the past.

Neo-Marxists should have recognized that Marx actually betrayed himself first.  In order to follow exact Marxian thoughts, the Left must overcome a Marxian paradox, enthusiastically be involved in restoring pure liberal capitalism, and patiently wait until developed capitalism wins in all countries.  Then we will see what happens.