Denouncing Marx as a revolutionary hothead and idiot has reached storm level. While the violent overthrow of slavery in the Civil War and fights for freedom against the powers that be in general are mostly praised, the fight for proper treatment of workers is denounced. In present days especially by those who want to fight the powers that be for… the middleclass working or jobless people, formerly known as the proletariat: the “populists”.
Most of the Marx-bashing is casual, using the general anti-Marx climate to insert a “Marxist” or “communist” in their rants against the “modern left”: Antifa, BLM, Extinction Rebellion, US DEMS and the like. But the “populists” share the same lack of knowledge of Marx and communism as these “left” idiots, whether they call themselves Marxists or not. Most of them have never read Marx or serious pieces by others about his ideas. A few may have (mis)read the Communist Manifesto thinking that this is why Marx was influential for over a century. They know nothing.
The manifesto is the least important work of Marx, it wasn’t a serious analyses of capitalism but a political pamphlet. Immature and somewhat provocative too. As Engels stated in the 1888 introduction:
“Yet, when it was written, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. By Socialists, in 1847, were understood, on the one hand the adherents of the various Utopian systems … already reduced to the position of mere sects, and gradually dying out; on the other hand, the most multifarious social quacks who, by all manner of tinkering, professed to redress, without any danger to capital and profit, all sorts of social grievances, in both cases men outside the working-class movement, and looking rather to the “educated” classes for support.”
Then, one seems to forget that the ideal and idea of equality of men, generally ascribed to communism, stems from the French Revolution, not from Marx. To this day this idea is fundamental for most political thought, for social-democrats as well as (neo)liberals. Only real conservatives have another view, and in this case quite right so. It’s clear that even a serious leveling of differences among men is impossible. However the communist manifesto doesn’t say a thing about this. Later on Marx states “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, as his ideal and this certainly can’t be interpreted as an ideal to have everyone dressed in a Mao-suit.
It’s clear that the realization of communism is impossible, and, as stated before, calling themselves communists was a provocation, not a political program. In the manifesto there is not the slightest indication of what a communist society should look like. The “From each…” was a later utopian ideal — and not even very original. In the second half of the 19th century communist parties didn’t play a serious role, and Marx was involved with the First International and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany.
“Communism” doesn’t stand for a coherent ideology or political programme; calling some regime — the EU for instance — or party “communist” doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the nature of the regime. Labeling a political movement as communist or Marxist doesn’t either. It is fearmongering, associating the regime or movement with repressive regimes that have lot of blood on their hands. Much better to call a regime or movement Stalinist, Maoist or NAZI, because that refers to explicit policies and dictatorship. So what is the reason to prefer communist or Marxist? First of all it should be clear that to call something “communist” is only a pretext to associate it with Marx, because he did write the Communist Manifesto.
So we have to answer the question why the loony left and the populist right prefer Marx above for instance Bakunin, Blanqui, Stalin or Robespierre to name a few. For the right it is the fact that he seems to want to do away with property altogether, being the absolute sin. For the left it is the justification of revolution. If one reads what Marx meant with “property” and “revolution”, and takes into account the epoch when he wrote on these subjects, this has little to do with what actually happened in the 20th century in the name of communism, socialism or marxism. In 1847, revolution was the more normal and even partly accepted way to realize political ambitions. Revolution didn’t necessary violence either. Real violence started after the French Revolution, the mother of modern revolutions. Parliamentary democracy was still in its infancy. Marx didn’t want to end all private property, but primarily the private property of what today is called big capital. This was the demand in de communist manifesto. Then he didn’t want state-ownership but social (democratic) ownership. The way the manifesto is handled now is a-historic. Reading the bible this way one could accuse Jesus for having himself put to the cross.
Framing Marx: two examples
There are not many analyses that try to underpin the evil of communism. One of them seems to be The Black Book of Communism. Although its main subject is “documenting a history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labor camps and artificially-created famines“, the editor argues against the claim that actually existing communism had nothing to do with theoretical communism.
As we have seen this is quite impossible because there simply is no “actually existing communism” and no “theoretical communism”. The claim seems to be substantiated by misinterpreting quotes or quoting parts of the Communist Manifesto out of context as shown here. Two examples:
All the preceding classes that got the upper hand, sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.
This is framed as “Destruction of individual property”. For the ones who can’t read, the property relation is to be abolished, and the securities and insurances (laws) destroyed. The property itself should be nationalized and not destructed. Nationalization is not communist, because under communism there should be no state. And it is quite clear from the context that this is about the property of enterprises, not personal property.
“There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc. that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.”
This is framed as “Away with eternal truths, religion and morality” Now this passage is in quotes and followed by What does this accusation reduce itself to?. It is something communists are accused of by their adversaries!
So, again, why choose Marx and not Stalin? There is only one answer: because Marx grounded the only serious theory on capitalism and clearly shows the shortcomings of the capitalist system. His critique is still valid and makes him dangerous for present-day capitalism: the institution that is foremost responsible for the present condition of the earth and humanity.
Communist parties in the 20th century
Because the German social democrats (SPD) voted for the financing of WWI in 1914, Lenin decided after the revolution of 1917 to rename the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to Communist Party of the Soviet Union. So this too was a polemical move with no program that would lead to communism. The USSR only stated it was a Socialist Republic, not a communist one. Organizing the Communist (third) International in opposition to the second (socialist) international, parties in other countries for the most part adopted “communist”. This is also the case for China, where the state is called People’s Republic, without even mentioning socialism. Both parties were the actually ruling organs of these states and stated explicitly they were a dictatorship, so when speaking of communists or communism one can only refer to parties, in power or not. The programme of all communist parties were and are socialist. There are no parties with concrete ideas for “abolishing the state”, the hallmark of communism. Where they are or were in power most started out with realizing their (socialist) programme, but sooner or later this deteriorated into a “normal” dictatorship. The contemptuous use of “communist” is fearmongering to keep people from discussing the role of capital.