Not the Real Marxism

From Quillette: Marx Deserves Better Critics.

If Marx wanted better critics, maybe he shouldn’t have devised an economic system that sucks so much. As someone in the comments notes:

Marx does not deserve better critics, because his ideas are so bad both in theory and in practice that it is a waste of time 150+ years on to continue to discuss him. Marx did not argue that Communism would be a nice way of government if we could implement it; he argued that it was an inevitable result of the contradictions of capitalism. Nevertheless, Communism has only been implemented in countries where it has been violently imposed by a (mostly bourgeois) revolutionary vanguard. And, far from leading to a world revolution and the eventual withering away of the state, Communism has disappeared almost everywhere it has been implemented (after impoverishing those countries). China is not even a good counterexample because they became economically successful only once they abandoned strict Marxism and implemented market reforms.

 

There are some things to be said in favour of socialism; I do not agree that it is a good idea, but I can see a reasonable debate about it. Marxism is a ridiculous pseudo-science that should not be taken seriously.

The author goes on:

Later on, cultural and technological progress would eliminate the need for such disparities. Under capitalism, automation puts people out of a job. Under socialism, Marx predicted, it would just mean that everyone had to work fewer hours. Eventually, he thought that there would be so much abundance that everyone could simply take what they needed, and what little work still needed to be done by humans could be accomplished by everyone just pursuing whatever projects happened to interest them. “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”

Given how many times this article has been shared, I was expecting a stronger refutation of Dr. Peterson’s critique of Marxism.

Recasting Marx as advocating inequality is a new angle, and sounds like a new take on the “not the real Marxism” argument, although from an unlikely source.

Even if Marx acknowledged that some people “supplies more labor in the same time,” that does not change the fact that “Marx advocated the abolition of class society, as it presently exists in the form of capitalism,” so someone who’s really talented and creates a hugely successful company, presumably, would not be able to keep anymore than to meet basic needs come revolution, with the rest redistributed, probably by force if necessary, which the author of this piece omits. That is what the “to each according to his needs” suggests.

Marx is much worse than many critics of Marx realize. He posited history as a dichotomous good v. evil struggle between owners of capital and workers, and the only possible resolution was through revolution, not a peaceful transition of power. His concept of dialectical materialism was not just an economic theory but a call to action in order to hasten the final stage, that being revolution and emancipation of workers, and is quoted as saying “let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.”

But there’s no widely accepted delineation of what “to each according to his needs” means. A thread on r/socialism attempts to answer this question, predictably yielding vague answers:

Perfectly simple – a need is whatever you want (within reason, of course).

 

If a society is producing goods to such an extent that everyone can take what they need/want without the risk of running out, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” becomes a possible guiding principle, and that is the natural outcome any development towards socialism should arrive at.

The “within reason” part is the rub. It’s as if that part is intentionally vague because if it were revealed that “one needs” entails a miserable standard of living compared to alternatives, no one would support it.

And from the Worker’s World website:

The fact of the matter is that inequality in distribution flows from the system of production for profit. Or, as Marxists put it, relations of distribution flow from relations of production. It is private property in the means of production and services that determines the distribution of social wealth. No amount of redistribution of wealth under capitalism, through government spending, union contracts or any other method, can overcome the class inequality that flows from the right of the capitalists to own not only the means of production, but all the products of production.

I think an actual socialist website is more representative of Marx than a Quillette article’s revisionist interpretation of him.

The article continues…

In some ways an even more interesting point of contention concerns the role the People’s Republic of China has played in this process. China is full of private businesses these days, but the state continues to play an outsized role in shaping the Chinese economy. If one of the primary drivers of the global decline of extreme poverty is its decline in the People’s Republic, is this a success story for “free market” capitalism or for a modified and liberalized form of state socialism? An answer to that question might shed some light on the deeper issue of whether capitalism continues to be the most effective way of improving the lot of the poor or whether an alternative global system would be preferable. This is a debate worth having, but the pro-capitalist side deserves better-informed anti-Marxist representatives than Jordan Peterson.

The part about China actually agrees with that Peterson says. In the 70′s, China abandoned market-communism, with huge success economically. Peterson would agree that quasi-socialism with a private sector and privatized profits is better than no private sector at all and redistribution, which is what Marx advocated and early 20th century Communist regimes practiced, with terrible results.

Jack Ma, who is a Chinese national and the founder of AlBaba, has a net worth of billions of dollars. From Fortune Why Communist China Is Home to So Many Billionaires:

2. Why has China’s Communist Party let people get rich?

 

It’s a necessary evil. The party identifies among its core tasks the advancement of the fundamental interest of the greatest majority of Chinese people. Deng, who famously said poverty is not socialism, interpreted this to mean that it was okay if some people needed to get rich to improve the livelihoods of the masses. Since the introduction of his reforms, more than 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty in China.

3. Does that mean the party doesn’t care if China is communist?

 

The party’s constitution says its “highest ideal and ultimate goal is the realization of communism.” But it doesn’t give a time frame for achieving it, so party leaders have a lot of room to maneuver within that broader goal. That allows space for divergent views to co-exist: Mao Zedong is still revered despite disruptive moves that led to famine and bloodshed, as is Deng for embracing market forces and foreign investment. Still, it remains important for leaders to pay respects to the founding ideology: President Xi Jinping this year publicly celebrated the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, including giving a statue to his hometown.

Although one can argue that Marxism allows for some temporary inequality from a consequentialist perspective if it’s to help reach the final goals of Marxism, in practice, communist governments are much less patient. Private property was sized as an immediate consequence of the Russian Revolution of 1917. “The Decree on Land, written by Vladimir Lenin, was passed by the Second Congress of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies on 8 November [O.S. 26 October] 1917, following the success of the October Revolution. It decreed an abolition of private property, and the redistribution of the proceeds.” As Peterson correctly and repeatedly notes, Stalin in the early 30′s purged the Kulacks and sized their farms. The Khmer Rouge was especially oppressive, and not only only was private property immediately banned, but so was personal property. Not surprisingly, the regime was short-lived. Mao’s “land reforms” entailed the “mass killings of landlords[3] in order to redistribute land to the peasant class and landless workers[9] which resulted in millions of deaths.” Jack Ma having so much personal wealth would have been impossible under the aforementioned regimes and governments.

China being an economic superpower in spite not having a purely westernized, free-market system does not imply Peterson is wrong about Marx. Assuming otherwise is an example of a false dichotomy or the excluded middle fallacy. The fact Marxism keeps being re-worked and relaxed instead of staying to the writings of Marx, whether during Cold War Russia or in China today, is evidence of the inherent non-viability of the original system as posited by Marx.