Communist Manifesto and the Present

This is a piece that talks about Marx, The Communist Manifesto, and how or even if, Marxism is still relevant in the contemporary world.

            The verdict of history regarding Marxism would seem to be on the side of those who claim that the Marxist program has been a colossal failure.   None of the predictions made by Marx in his manifesto have come true, certainly not his central theme in which the masses reap the benefits of an equalization of status in society.   It is certain that everywhere Marxism has been tried it has failed China, Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Cuba among others.   Marxism has failed and failed spectacularly.   However, it continues to exert an attraction for those who felt that society should provide for all or that are disenchanted with the capitalist system and fell that there must be some better way of running the world.

David Horowitz made this point extremely well when he pointed out that: “since the ‘Manifesto’ was written… 100 million people have been killed in its name.   Between 10 and 20 times that number have been condemned to lives of unnecessary misery and human squalor, deprived of the life chances afforded the most humble citizens of the industrial democracies that Marxists set out to destroy.”[1]  Apparently people are not willing to give up their economic autonomy as easily as Marx thought they would be and so they must be forced into doing what Marxists perceive as being in their best interests.

Virtually every Marxist revolution since the publishing of the Communist Manifesto has been accomplished by violence against those it is ostensibly supposed to protect.   The Bolshevik revolution in Russia was accomplished after five years of civil war but then followed by decades of repression as the Bolsheviks sought to impose “correct” thoughts on the Russian and subject peoples.   The most intense period of this was in the early 1930’s when Russian peasants were forced onto collective farms in the process over 15 million of them were killed.[2]  Ironically collectivization was supposed to increase agricultural production but instead it created famine as former peasant freeholders only did the minimum necessary work.   A similar thing happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge who killed approximately 1.7 million people during their four years of rule, which was about 20% of the Cambodian population.[3]

Marx should have been profoundly disappointed in the results of his call to arms.   Not only did his prescription fail where it was tried but his call was largely ignored in Europe, which was the focus of his efforts in the first place.   To be sure, the socialist movements of Western Europe draw some of their inspiration from Marx and his works.   What they signally failed and continue to fail to do is try to achieve the socialist program through advocating violent revolution.   The socialists of Western Europe have attempted to enact their program of social change by working within government.   To a large extent they have been successful in ameliorating the worst of the excesses that Marx and Engels decried while at the same time allowing capitalism to flourish and bring greater prosperity to all.

The Marxian program as outlined in the manifesto is simple, Marx himself even says so when he states that the theory of communism can be summed up in one sentence, “Abolition of private property.” But Marx contradicts himself on the very same page by claiming that he only wants to see bourgeois property done away with.[4]  He is essentially magnanimously granting that clothing and furniture can be owned while asserting that businesses and land belong to the people as a whole.

Of course everything Marx preached was not predicated on the notion of property.   He also presented ideas in the manifesto that have subsequently been enacted, such as his advocacy of the elimination of child labor and free education in public schools.[5]  Perhaps that last explains the prevalence of Marxists in academia.

In Thoroughly Modern Marx Leo Panitch blames capitalism and a lack of Marxist principles in society for the present economic crises.   He repeats the claim that Marx was a prophet of sorts who accurately predicted the fate of capitalism; it just took longer than Marx thought it would.   It seems clear given the poor historical performance of planned economies that Marxism as a practical method of government is a failure.   Panitch is correct when he states that limited Marxism such as practiced in many European countries that have generous social programs appears to work but that does not take into account the looming demographic crisis that is affecting not only Europe but also America and Canada.   As a consequence of declining birthrates western nations are finding that social programs are becoming increasingly unsustainable with a smaller base of taxpayers to pay for social services.   With an estimate that

In 2050 there will be 75 pensioners for every 100 taxpayers versus 35 for 100 now.[6]  Social spending along the current lines in Europe and America is unsustainable in the long term, another indication of the failure of the Marxist model.

            Just as there are still neo-Nazis in Germany and nationalists in Spain, so there are still Communists that peddle Marxism as a cure for social ills even though it is a demonstrable failure.   Are the Marxist parties of the world and the doctrine of Marxism relevant in the contemporary world?  They are to the extent that they can stir up popular discontent by peddling a failed ideology that promises a relief from perceived misery.   This is true regardless of the fact that the promises of the Marxists are empty and their fulfillment only leads to misery and national ruin.   As long as there are people who are disengaged from the world of commerce and aggrieved against the current order Marxism will continue to be a relevant doctrine because it will continue to draw adherents.

 Great quote: “How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”

[1] Hamilton, Richard F. “THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AT 150.” Society 38, no. 2 (January 2001):  Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 16, 2009). p. 78

[2] Melvin, Eugene H. “Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine.” Bational Review Vol. 47, no. 23 (December 1995). p. 124

[3] Williams, Sarah. “Genocide: The Cambodian Experience.” International Criminal Law Review Vol. 5, no. 3 (September 2005). p. 447

[4] Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. p. 235

[5] Ibid. p. 10

[6] “Analysis: Europe population.” Morning Edition. 11 October2004. (accessed October 20, 2009).