Monday, February 21, 2011

Marx & The Communist Manifesto, From Feb. 21, 1848 To Today

On this day in 1848, socialist philosopher Karl Marx and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels, first published their magnum opus, The Communist Manifesto. In it, Marx advocated for a complete reworking of society, starting with the formation of labor unions, building into socialism and then to communism. It marks the single most destructive and distorting philosophy ever put forth in history, bringing untold misery to the world and working destruction upon the fabric of Western civilization to this day. Its promise has always been that society can be perfected and utopia achieved. And while it has done some societal good in the West, the overarching reality has been economic misery and, in terms of communism, massive bloodshed.

I. Background, Philosophy & Goals

At the time Marx wrote his book, he was responding to very real problems in European society during the Industrial Revolution. Sweat shops, dangerous work places and slave wages were only a few of those problems. Moreover, European society tended to be very stratified, with many obstacles to moving between economic and social classes. Marx was also responding to Europe's colonialism as a similar evil of "oppression." And indeed, colonialism of the era, as practiced by all but the British, at least in retrospect, could be so characterized. His solutions, as expressed in The Communist Manifesto and other works, were well intentioned, but as explained below, his basic assumption about the regulation of economic markets was wildly false and his analytical framework of history was both superficial and grossly distorting.

All of that is to say that Marx's socialism is not an inherent evil. Some aspects or legacies of socialism that have found their way throughout Western society since 1848 are quite legitimate. As Bookworm Room states in a very informative post on the topic, protections for workers and a safe workplace are some of those legacies. The great weakening of the class system and the rise of the welfare state are others. And while the latter has gotten wildly out of hand, the proposition that society should provide a minimalist, temporary safety net is quite legitimate. Unfortunately, for what good Marx's socialism has done for society at large, the harm it has done has been exponentially greater.

Marx did not invent socialism, but he greatly stengthened its philosophical underpinnings, as well as describing and agitating for the final stage of socialism, communism. As I described it previously:

Steeped in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and born in the crucible of the French Revolution, socialism was meant to wholly rework society. Socialist philosophers, most notably Karl Marx, rejected class and religion as the bases for societal structure and advocated remaking society under the watchful eye of a central government that would redistribute the nation's wealth and mandate social equality. At the center of the socialist revolution was the Marxian belief that all events could and should be analyzed in terms of the oppressor and the oppressed, the victim classes and the victimizing class - a simplistic and distorting theme that makes up such a large part of our political discourse today. It creates, in its myopic view, a world of demons and perpetual victims. As Marx wrote in the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

Inherent in that proposition is a rejection of Western values, history and norms and, in its stead, an embrace of militant secularism, moral relativism and, [in modern form], multiculturalism.

II. The Process:

Marx envisioned a multistep process to communism. The very first step, as he pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, was for workers to create unions:

. . . [T]he workers begin to form combinations (trade unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots.

Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by Modern Industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralize the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle . . .

From there, Marx envisioned society passing into socialism, with the state owning the means of production, and then into finally into full communism:

The Marxist conception of socialism is that of a specific historical phase that will displace capitalism and precede communism. The major characteristics of socialism (particularly as conceived by Marx and Engels after the Paris Commune of 1871) are that the proletariat [workers] will control the means of production through a workers' state erected by the workers in their interests. Economic activity would still be organised through the use of incentive systems and social classes would still exist, but to a lesser and diminishing extent than under capitalism.

For orthodox Marxists, socialism is the lower stage of communism based on the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution" while upper stage communism is based on the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"; the upper stage becoming possible only after the socialist stage further develops economic efficiency and the automation of production has led to a superabundance of goods and services.

III. Application Outside Of The West

A. Economic Model

As an economic model, neither communism nor socialism has ever succeeded in comparison to capitalism. This is because the central assumption of the socialist model - that governments can be a more efficient regulator of economies than free markets - has been proven false beyond any iota of rational argument. Related thereto, communism and socialism have failed because they look upon the fiscal self interest motivating the capitalist class as the penultimate sin.

"Greed" is not a dirty word, despite what our Commander in Chief might say in his attacks on capitalism. When fiscal self interest has been championed and combined with free market competition, it has massively lifted the standard of living for all in its ambit, including the lowest economic classes. And it should be noted that, in a free market economy, being a member of the lowest economic class at any given point is, for the vast majority, a transitory state. But when the opportunity to pursue one's fiscal self interest has been denied to the populace at large, as happens under socialism and communism, history has shown the result to be misery.

Those nations that have embraced socialism, with the government owning the means of production, are - or were before their collapse - economic basket cases. The Soviet Union fell apart in the 90's as a result of economic collapse. Communist China was well on their way to following the Soviet Union until Deng Xiaoping become the leader of the country and replaced communist economics with free market economics, starting China's economy on the road to what has been decades of rapid expansion. Cuba, North Korea, and Burma maintain full blown socialist economic systems, and all three have some of the lowest standards of living in the world today. In South America, Chavez is still in the midst of moving Venezuela into socialism, and its standard of living is tanking with stagflation and food rationing.

Similarly, in the Middle East, socialism and its closely related variant, crony capitalism, abound. Neither have worked there. For example, Iran, where government clerics own - and get rich off of - the major industries, is an economic basket case. Egypt is another example of a state with dominant socialist economics - and indeed, economic conditions were the motivating factor behind the recent revolution.

B. Social/Political Model

As a political and social model, Marx's philosophy has been even more destructive than its economic model. Marx's utopian world required an all powerful central government to enforce the distribution of wealth, to perfect society, to enforce equality of outcome, and to motivate people to produce in the absence of a profit motive. Marxism further rejected Judeo-Christian morality, leaving the state as the unchecked final arbiter of what is right and wrong, and thus prioritized individual human life below political goals to benefit the "proletariat" and the state. The end result has been slaughter on a scale never before seen in history. Well over 100 million people were murdered by their own communist regimes in the 20th century.

In China, "official study materials published in 1948 [show that] Mao envisaged that "one-tenth of the peasants" (or about 50,000,000 [people]) "would have to be destroyed" to facilitate agrarian reform." In the end, between the agrarian reform, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, Mao actually exceeded that total by several million. The Soviet Union purged at least as many of its citizens, if not far more, from its inception through the end of Stalin's regime. China and the Soviet Union were not anamolies. Virtually every country that has seen the imposition of communism has also seen government sponsored mass murder on a wide, if not industrial scale. For example, in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge slaughtered roughly 20% of its population. In North Korea, somewhere between 710,000 and 3,500,000 of the populace have been slaughtered by the Kim dynasty.

IV. Marxism In The West

A. Europe

Britain is a casebook study in the experimentation with Marx's socialist ethos, both economically through the 1980's and, in social policy, through today. In the aftermath of World War II, Britain embraced socialism, voting in 1945 to reject their war-time leader Winston Churchill, in favor of Labour's Clement Attlee. Attlees's first orders of business were the creation of the welfare state, the nationalization of major industry, the creation of nationalized medicine, and the divestiture of the empire. Tremendous power was placed in the hands of labor unions, and Britain suffered economically for decades. It took Margaret Thatcher to turn things around:

She entered 10 Downing Street determined to reverse what she perceived as a precipitous national decline. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation, particularly of the financial sector, flexible labour markets, and the sale or closure of state-owned companies and withdrawal of subsidies to others. . . She took a hard line against trade unions.

Perhaps most important in the turn from economic socialism, Thatcher significantly weakened the political power of Britain's labor unions, reforming them in a manner not too dissimilar to what we see occurring in Wisconsin today. Such was Britain's economic rebound under Thatcher that the Labour Party ultimately dispensed with the idea of promoting socialism as an economic model, withdrawing the infamous "Clause IV" of its plank calling for nationalization of industry and wide-scale redistribution of wealth. In addition, Labour has continued Thatcher's union policies.

Much of Europe is incrementally trying to follow Britain's lead. Decades of European experimentation with socialism and the welfare state have given Europe moribund economies with slow growth and high unemployment. But that is changing. In the words of the NYT, "socialism is collapsing in Europe."

And socialism is not merely collapsing economically in Europe, it is also collapsing as a driver of society. Multiculturalism is a natural outgrowth of Marx's deeply distorting view that all of society should be analyzed in terms of the "oppressed and oppressor," and that, within that rubric, Western societies, with a history of colonialism and imperialism, are uniquely sinful oppressors. It is a belief system wholly detached from historical reality.

Euorpean multiculturalism encourages minorities to define themselves by the culture of their nationality or by their religion. And because Marxism holds indigenous Western culture to be irredeemably sinful, multiculturalism requires that non-indigenous cultures be accepted non-judgmentally and, indeed, seems to hold them to be superior to indigenous culture. It deliberately balkanizes society and it is particularly insidious as regards to Islamic minorities in Europe. Yet today, it is widely being acknowledged across Europe that multiculturalism has failed utterly. So says French President Sarkozy, Britain's David Cameron, and Germany's Angela Merkel. Hopefully this rejection of multiculturalism is sufficiently timely to cure the toxin Marxian multiculturalism has released into European society.

B. U.S.

Even as Europe moves away from socialism, Obama is trying to drive the U.S. towards the failed European economic model. Obama has set us on the road to nationalizing one sixth of our economy with Obamacare. Our government is today the majority owner of GM and Chrysler. Obama nationalized the student loan industry, ostensibly for greater efficiency. Moreover, Obama is insinuating the government deeply into our economy with a tsunami of new regulations, particularly in the areas of the environment and finance. Then there was the recent power grab to regulate the internet. Obama is ideologically committed to punishing the rich through taxes and redistributing their wealth for the 'greater good' of society. And lastly, Obama is showing a penchant for crony capitalism, picking winners and losers in the marketplace. If that is not incremental economic socialism, then nothing is.

It is not just Obama that is infected with the Marxist philosophy - it pervades the entire left wing in the U.S. The left in America today is not a monolith, but rather a mosaic of pigeon holed permanent victim groups - a toxin directly derived from Marx's oppressed / oppressor analytical framework. It is the maintenance of these 'oppressed' permanent victim groups - be they minority groups, gays, women, or public sector employees - that is the raison d'etre of the modern Democrat party. And indeed, the central financial foundation of the Democrats is taxpayer money laundered through public sector unions, the essential building block of Marx's march toward a communist utopia. This is not to say that a majority of Democrats are agitating to establish full blown socialism in America today. But it is to say that to understand our modern left and their trajectory, the first step is to read Marx. Step two is to study history in order to understand what will happen to our nation if they are allowed to pull our nation along that trajectory.

V. The War On Religion

Central to Marx's goal to entirely remake society was to drive Judaism and Christianity from society. Western culture, morality, history and societal structures are inextricably intertwined with the Judeo-Christian religions. Indeed, one could say that, at least until the Enlightenment, the history of Christianity, and to a lesser extent Judaism, were one and the same as the history of Western civilization. Thus Marx became an implacable enemy of these religions and started a war on them that the left continues to this day:

. . . [S]ocialists have warred against Christianity and Judaism for over two centuries. Indeed, when socialism was born in the crucible of the French Revolution, one of the first acts of the Revolutionary government was to initiate a systematic and brutal war on the Catholic Church and its clergy.

The left has waged this war against Christianity and Judaism ever since. Karl Marx, socialism's greatest philosopher, famously wrote in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right that religion is the "opium of the people" and that "[t]he abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness." The British socialist party wrote in their 1911 manifesto that "it is a profound truth that Socialism is the natural enemy of religion." In America, the socialist left has used activist Courts as an a means of removing all aspects of Christianity from the public square while in Britain, the Labour Party is demoting Christianity and deconstructing the Anglican Church. . . .

With the left's partial success in their war on Christianity has come an interesting phenomena - the search for something to replace Christianity among the newly secularized. It would seem that we humans are hard wired to look for what amounts to a religion to give ourselves a moral mooring and a greater purpose in life. Socialist governments recognized this. Indeed, the first socialists in France substituted government sponsored cult movements in place of the Catholic Church. In Communist countries, where raw police power was used - not wholly successfully - to crush Christianity and Judaism, socialism itself was raised to the level of a religion complete with a sainthood - the quasi-deification of communist leaders as part of a cult of personality. Catholics had the Shroud of Turin; Soviets had the mummy of Lenin.

On an individual level, the same search for a substitute is happening in the West. Many of the secular left today embrace environmentalism as a religion - and indeed, it was but a few months ago that UNEP explicitly called for the global warming movement to be pushed as a religious alternative to Christianity. Still others embrace the airy spiritualism of New Age thought.

All of this has existential ramifications for Western society. For the better part of two millennium, the Judeo-Christian ethic has provided a rock solid framework for morality at the heart of Western society - one that puts maximum value on each individual human life and one that provides moral clarity in such things as Christianity's Golden Rule and Judaism's "Great Commandment." Take that mooring away from the ancient expressions of our deity and all morality then becomes dependant on what any particular person or government defines as the greater good.

When governments and individuals can define by their whim what is moral or immoral, what is desirable and what is punishable, human life is almost inevitably devalued. Certainly Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, and Pol Pot, between them responsible for the murder of well over a hundred million people in the 20th century, held to socialist belief systems that devalued human life and elevated in its stead political ideology. Many in the green movement argue that man is a parasite on the world and call for strictly limiting his impact using authoritarian means - including population control, forced sterilization and other such methods. . .

The bottom line is, regardless whether one believes in Judaism or Christianity, we will pay a very heavy price indeed for jettisoning them as the bedrock of Western society. Yet that is precisely what the left has sought for over two centuries, promising in their stead a secular heaven on earth. Ironically, should they fully succeed, history teaches us that their promised earthly heaven will be far more likely to resemble biblical hell.

VI. Conclusion

The allure of Marx's socialist philosophy, despite its utter failure as an economic model and its evil, bloody history as a social and political model, is very much alive. People embrace its utopian ideals wholly irrepsective of historical reality. It is fair to say that, since Marx first published the Communist Manifesto, the clash between Marxist social and economic ethos on one hand and traditional Western freedoms and capitalism on the other has been a reoccurring and often predominant theme across all sectors of society and culture. And indeed, what we see happening in Wisconsin today, pitting democracy against labor unions, is simply one more event in the history of that conflict. Marx may be dead, but his ghost still very much haunts us today.


billm99uk said...

Funny thing is I think the current teachers' union arrangements would be illegal under current British Law...

GW said...

Bill, by all means, do please expound on that thought.

GW said...

From Bill M:

What I meant was, there’s three levels of union protection agreement, right:

1. The closed shop (where you must join a union before getting a job)

2. The union shop (where you must join the union after getting a job)

3. The agency shop (where you must either join the union or pay a fee in lieu for their bargaining services)

Now the first of these was outlawed by Taff Hartley in the US in 1947, but the latter two were legal, but could be banned under “right-to-work” laws by the individual states. Now my understanding (I could be wrong!) was Wisconsin state employees operate under the third of these, and that what’s Scott Walker is trying to remove?

The strange thing is here in Britain I think all three would already be illegal right now. The Thatcher legislation you mentioned in the article was consolidated in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 which goes as follows:

s.137 Refusal of employment on grounds related to union membership.

(1)It is unlawful to refuse a person employment—

(a)because he is, or is not, a member of a trade union [so no closed shops], or

(b)because he is unwilling to accept a requirement—

(ii) to take steps to become or cease to be, or to remain or not to become, a member of a trade union,[ditto union shops] or

(ii) to make payments or suffer deductions in the event of his not being a member of a trade union.[again, same for the agency shop]

Funny thing is I remember at the time it generally was thought over here she was just copying the US example! I guess at least some of the “right-to-work” states must pre-date her, but it’s pretty surprising to find that kind of working arrangement still going on in the US. We always tend to think of dubious union practices and overly stroppy defences thereof as being the “British Disease” I suppose, and imagine the US free of that kind of thing.