Misconceptions about Marxism
by, 30th November 2010 at 21:18 (5449 Views)
[FONT=Cambria]Misconceptions about Marxism[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]I have finally grown tired of every alternative capitalist and anti-communist telling me how wrong communism, especially Marxism, is without having the slightest idea what communism is about in the first place. Ignorance is of course unavoidable as I cannot claim to know every aspect of Marxism myself, but from devout critics of some specific philosophies we should expect at least a basic understanding of the philosophy they are being critical about! Having said that, I will now list the most common flawed assumptions made about Marxism specifically, and I will proceed to correct these mistakes with brief descriptions about the reality of Marxism in these particular topics. [/FONT]
[FONT=Cambria]There is a common agreement amongst communists on what communist society looks like, and deviations from this view are not accepted.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]There is an actual reason why I choose to tackle this false assumption first. People often criticize “the communists” as if we were a monolithic movement. We are not. In the words of my anonymous friend from the internet: “Communists are not a Borg”. What this means is that even if you have a very accurate idea about what Marxism is, you cannot assume that a self-proclaimed Marxist will agree with every single aspect of Marxism. I’d even claim the opposite and say that most if not all Marxists disagree with at least one or two aspects of Marxism, probably more. It is therefore good to remember when talking with a self-proclaimed Marxist, that his/her brand “Marxist” is just a brief description about the bigger philosophies, not an accurate explanation for his/her opinions.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]Not only can the term “Marxism” itself be interpreted in different ways, but Marxism is not even the only communist philosophy around. This text is specifically about the Marxist schools of communism, but your potential communist friend might as well be a left-communist, Christian communist, anarcho-communist or one of many other communist philosophies. The term “communist” is very similar to the term “Marxist” in the way that it works fine when used as a broad description. It fails only when attempted to use it as some sort of unified dogma.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]Dogmatism is also the other dimension of this common misconception. Many of those who would even consider themselves Marxists might be afraid to join Marxist organizations due to the stereotype about Marxist organizations being extremely intolerant about personal opinions. According to my personal experience, however, the fact is quite the opposite. The organizations I am a member of seem to be much more tolerant about individuality than most mainstream political parties in this country. (I assume you are reading this in RevLeft.com where you can check my current organizations and country.) [/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]I cannot, of course, deny that dogmatist Marxist organizations exist, or that they would be intolerant, but this phenomenon is hardly a byproduct of the Marxist philosophy, or exclusive to Marxism anyway. There is no more reason to detest Marxism because of its dogmatic followers than there is reason to detest capitalism due to its dogmatic followers. This goes especially when we consider the lengths to which both Marx and Lenin went to stress how Marxism is not a dogma. Also, this idea that an ideology should be avoided if it has nasty people promoting it is kind of an ad hominem. If the proposition of group A contains the philosophical elements X, and the propositions of the nasty group B also contains the philosophical elements X, then it is not reasonable to disregard the proposition X just because the nasty group B also likes it.[/FONT]
[FONT=Cambria]Marxists want all property to be owned by the state[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]This is the misconception most often repeated by actual official factual sources, such as schoolbooks. Marxism cannot consider universal state ownership to be desirable, because if there is one unifying feature between all communist ideologies it is that of the opposition to all state organizations. To put it simply: Marxism is an “anti-statist” ideology, of which’s idea of a “perfect” society is highly opposed to the very existence of state apparatus. Actually, all respectful definitions of a communist society begin with the words: “a classless, stateless society…”[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]The reason for this opposition to state apparatus is the Marxist view of the state as: “A means of one class imposing its will on another”. That is to say that the state organization is only needed to violently force the co-existence of two classes. Therefore a classless society simply must be a stateless one also. There are of course much deeper theoretical and philosophical structures behind this thinking, but with this limited space and time my brief explanation will have to do. For those interested in Marxist philosophy and view concerning the state, I would suggest a book by Lenin by the name of: “State and revolution”.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]About the part “…all property…”: This is born out of an understandable confusion in terms. Marx himself used in his works the term: “abolition of private property”, not: “personal property”. At least in Marxist philosophy the two terms mean completely different things. Private property refers to the private ownership over means of production, where as personal property refers to the property that you hold under your roof. So no, we do not wish to collectivize your food or your toothbrush. You get to keep your PC and do whatever you wish to do with it. We all are, however, dependant on the means of production for our daily survival, so it only follows that no one person should have ultimate dominance over institutions we all depend upon. These “means of production” are in economic terms “all capital excluding human capital and financial capital”. Or as examples: factories, farms, tools and machines of production.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]In communism the means of production would not be owned by the state, but by the collective. I assume that every reader has some kind of blurry understanding about the differences between the term “collective”, and the term “state”. You and your family are one collective. Yet you are not a state. This issue is explained in detail in my other blog-post. (Try to guess which one.)[/FONT]
[FONT=Cambria]Marxists want us all to forget our individuality in favor of the party[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]This is often admired, but never required. It is true that most communists dislike the western idea of individualism, in which the individual is often seen as something hostile to the collective. Communists, however, see the interests of the individual and the interests of the collective as things that are not mutually exclusive. I often like to say: “Healthy society can only be born of healthy individuals, and healthy individuals can only grow in healthy society.” In practice this would mean that while your motives might be “selfish” in some sense of the word, you cannot express yourself as an individual without a thriving community around you, and that completely rejecting the people around you can have a devastating effect on you no matter how big of an individual you are. [/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]There is also this disdain amongst communists towards the “great man theory”. It means that individual “great men”, like leaders or other key figures, could never achieve anything alone. This is also why communists are not very fond of celebrities or other hero-worship. The logic behind the thought is pretty easy to grasp, but for many people who have grown within the capitalist culture which worships “from rags to riches”-stories and other individualist dreams it might be hard to get used to the idea that your greatest worth is as a part of some bigger community. Indeed, it is part of the collectivist idea that your individual mark in this world is much smaller if you try to do everything on your own, and that you have a bigger chance to make an impact when you work with and within an organization.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]Also, the appreciation of the party apparatus amongst Marxists is often exaggerated, and if you will excuse my deviation from the Marxist theme, anarcho-communists actively oppose all forms of party organization. Sure, we Marxists acknowledge the importance of the party but personally I have not witnessed a communist party that would make any unreasonable demands from its members. With “unreasonable” I of course mean demands that any mainstream party would not make.[/FONT]
[FONT=Cambria]Marxists want violence![/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]This is probably one of the most absurd ones, and this too born out of 19th century Marxist phraseology. When we read Marx we can read that he talked about “forceful” overthrow of capitalism and its necessity. While the necessity of forceful overthrow of capitalism could be discussed to no end, it is not the topic here. The fact remains that forceful overthrow can mean anything from bloodless disarming of the capitalist armies to full scale civil wars. There is really no reason to believe that even the most dogmatist communists would wish a difficult revolution, meaning that a bloodless revolution is an ideal situation for all. Still the terminology is correct, for even a bloodless disarming by the masses can be considered forceful.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]When looking back on history, we can actually see that during practically all of the most important communist revolutions, with the exception of the Chinese revolution, the communists have been the “victims” if the reader allows the usage of the term. In most revolutions, like in the October revolution, the actual revolution has been relatively violence free. In the case of October revolution the violence and the following civil war was actually initiated by pro-czar army units, after the actual revolution. And in other instances, like the Spanish civil war, communists were actually the participant defending the official government.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]So, while it is true that not all communists are pacifists (note: many are), the non-pacifism does not manifest itself as anything else than a belief in justified defense. Very few non-communists are pacifists either, and yet this does not manifest itself as bloodthirsty ethnic cleansings. The difference is that while most mainstream political movements believe that nations have the right to defend themselves in the face of violent aggression, we communists believe that, nations being irrelevant, the working class has the right to defend itself in the face of violent aggression. This view is no more prone to abuse than its liberal counterpart.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]Another misconception of violence is born when communists talk about abolishing certain classes or “cultures”. This has never meant killing the representatives of these populations, but creating a situation in which these groups would voluntarily assimilate themselves to the working class population. This has already happened in the western countries to certain extent. For example: the supporters of child-labor and child labor as a phenomenon itself has practically disappeared from the western world. In no situation did it mean killing employers of children. Similar gradual abandoning of ideas and trades is what communists mean when they talk about abolishing certain cultural features which are deemed “reactionary”. What such features and positions actually are, is a matter of heated debate within communist circles even today, so different views are welcome. I am sure, for example, that most of us can agree that the practice of circumcision should be opposed as harmful to the child who cannot even understand its implications.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]These illusions of communist violence are usually without any basis in reality, and are nothing but the product of red scares that have taken place in many western countries.[/FONT]
[FONT=Cambria]Marxists hate your rights and demand total obedience[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]This, once again, is pretty much the opposite to what Marxists actually promote. The Marxist philosophy has a way of explaining the birth of rights and privileges with the will of the masses. What it states is that rights are never given by the state because of the power interests inherent in the very class nature of the state apparatus. Therefore, if the general public wishes itself any right or sets of rights, it has to take those rights through threats and class struggle. The state of mind, in which an individual understands one’s position as a worker and the rights that one could have via class struggle, is called “class consciousness”.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]When one looks at the history of labor rights, for example, one notices that this theory has more or less been an accurate description of actual happenings. Most of our rights have been opposed to great extent when they were first introduced, nearly always by the state and by the religious institutions where they hold power. And most of these rights were only passed into the legislation after extensive struggle, strikes and often even civil wars.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]Marxists therefore hold that no state or party, even Marxist ones, can give rights to a man or a woman. Rights need to be actively fought for, both with the organization and within the organization. Only a class conscious mass of people can achieve rights as they have been achieved before. So in a way Marxists want you to have all the rights you desire, but it explains why no political entity can just hand it over to you. You need to be part of that entity yourself, and take those rights.[/FONT]
[FONT=Calibri]This issue is discussed more in depth on my other blog post about the six-hour workday.[/FONT]
[FONT=Cambria]Marxists want to recreate the soviet-union of Stalin era and everything that it entails to me.[/FONT]
First of all, not even the most dogmatist "stalinists" want to recreate soviet-union as it was. This is because soviet-union was never seen as a communist society or economy. And if someone who claims this wants to be serious about it he would have to find an explanation as to why Lenin labeled the soviet economy as "state-capitalist" in his three-part Pravda article on 1918. As I see it, Lenin was the one person who had the biggest interest to label the soviet system as communist for two reasons. First of them is the wide popularity of communism in russia during that time. If Lenin were to label the soviet system as communist it would have meant some automatic support for him by standard. The other motive is the potential loss of political credibility. Lenin had just initiated the first large-scale communist marxist-revolution and was the grand architect for most of the system. When he admitted his failure to reach communism he immediately lost supporters from the ranks of anarchists and left-communists.
So, if this kind of person labels the soviet economy as "state-capitalist", why would anyone label them as socialist or communist? Well, two factions did this for two different reasons. First Stalin declared the soviet-union as socialist (note: not communist. Two different things.) This was because of his interests not to lose the political credibility like Lenin did. If he had admitted the failure of his politics to reach communism he too would have lost some support within the party. Secondly, in the west the USSR had a reputation as a "totalitarian" state. For propaganda purposes it was beneficial for western conservatives to equate communism with "totalitarianism" even if they very well knew that the USSR did not conform to the communist ideals.
The reason why the soviet union failed were well known well before soviet-union was even formed. Lenin predicted already in 1918 that if the bolsheviks would not gain revolution in an industrial country they would be forced to take "defensive" measures. And as it happened the german revolution of 1918 failed for a number of reasons, leaving the russian revolution, an agrarian society to tend for itself. And because the soviet russia was following a political ideology passionately hated by all capitalist countries they were certain not to get any support from them, unless they gave up on some economic policies.
As it happens, already in the times of Marx it was made very clear that because the communist revolution would be economically blackmailed by alll surrounding capitalist countries, the communist revolution would need to happen in an industrial country or it would fail. Lenin was fully aware of this, and made the soviet system "state-capitalist" which was considered a certain kind of holding pattern while waiting for more industrial revolutions.
The ideological history of the different "communist" countries are ofcourse more nuanced, but in this article such brief introduction will have to do.
Also, it is unreasonable to demand modern communists to defend the soviet system unless they themselves start to do so. This is because communism is not a dogma, and most communist parties have their own view of how their country will reach socialism and communism. Demanding an explanation for the failure of the USSR from a british left-communist is equally useless as demanding an explanation for nazi-germany from a canadian conservative. To put it simply, we don't have to defend what we do not want to create.
Besides, I find it striking that when it comes to communism people suddenly accept such black and white views as with the soviet system. Every system has their ups and downs, none are pure failures and pure successes. Yet it seems OK for us judge everything in the soviet-union simply because that everything was in the soviet-union. For my great relief I can find that communists are the ones with far more realistic analysis of the USSR and other past "communist" countries. Most of us can see the good policies without defending the terrors and other mistakes while they are at it.
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