[Note: this is an old musing of mine written back in May of 2011. I hope it is still as fresh today as it was back then.]
Karl Marx’s economic theories have long been disproved (theoretically as soon as they came out, and practically with the fall of the Berlin Wall), and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of individuals have perished under communist regimes. People were either murdered, “relocated”, or starved to death through the attempts of Marx’s acolytes to remake man in their image.
Despite this horrific record, his theories continue to persist throughout modern political discourse. In the United States his myths are still promoted in the academy and among the hard Left, but very few take them seriously (unfortunately). However, in much of the rest of the world his ideas are still prevalent in everyday political action. In order to go about showing you why this is may be the case, I am going to switch from Marxist economic theory (the labor theory of value is so out of step with reality and public discourse that I feel it is unnecessary to debunk it here) to Marxist political theory.
In fleshing out Marx’s political thought, I hope to show my loyal readers (all two of you) a couple of things: 1) that Marx’s ideas on political organization were nothing new (in fact Marxist thought on political organization is actually very old), and 2) that although Marxist ideas on political organization are not taken seriously by most Americans, the few who do take them seriously are very smart people in very high places. Failure to recognize the subtle exposition of Marx’s political thought in public discourse could lead to dangerous consequences if we are not more aware of what it is that Marxists are attempting to destroy and what it is that they are attempting to replace it with.
A third thing I would like my readers to be aware of is the scope and depth of specific theories pertaining to social organization. A good social theory is one that must take into account a wide variety of human thought and action, and must be intent on recognizing the universal traits that are apparent in all forms of human action, so as to better enhance our understanding of the world around us. To search for anything else, it seems to me, is merely a divisive tool used by some to further their own petty interests (power over others) at the expense of us all.
Check out this letter from Karl Marx to his old buddy Friedrich Engels (dating from June 20th, 1870) on the Franco-Prussian War:
Enclosed is a letter from Kugelmann, which will enlighten you significantly on the mysteries of the current war. He is right in criticizing the appeal for a Brunswick assembly, a few copies of which I am enclosing. In addition, I am sending you Revéil. You will find it in the first half of the Act of Accusation before the High Court of Blois; how pitiable appear the French conspirators, who, without any reason, turn into mouchards, compared to the Fenians! But the paper is also interesting because of the leading article by old Delescluze. Although he opposes the government, [his article] is the most complete expression of chauvinism, ‘car la France est le seul pays de l’idée‘ [‘for only France is the country of ideas’] – that is, of ideas it has about itself. The only thing that annoys these chauvinistic republicans is that the real expression of their idol – L. Bonaparte with the long nose of a stock-exchange shark – does not correspond to their fancy picture. The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralization of state power will be useful for the centralization of the German working class [emphasis mine – BC]. German predominance would also transfer the center of gravity of the worker’s movement in Western Europe from France to Germany, and one has only to compare the movement in the two countries from 1866 until now to see that the German working class is superior to the French both theoretically and organizationally. Their predominance over the French on the world stage would mean at the same time the predominance of our theory of Proudhon’s, etc.
Now pause for a moment and then re-read this letter. Aside from the naked anti-Semitism in his letter (something he was famous for, but is often glossed over by his acolytes) and his enthusiastic support for state-sponsored violence, I think that what stands out most in this letter is the ardent nationalism that it espouses.
When Karl Marx rose to prominence in the 19th century, he did so during a time when Europe knew almost unending peace. Commercial relations among western European states were solid, and wars were almost unheard of on the continent. Only the German confederation agitated militaristically, as German Chancellor Otto von Bismark sought to consolidate Prussian control over the confederation and territory beyond the confederation’s realm (as evidenced by the short wars fought against France and Austria-Hungary). It must remarked upon that the German realm had, prior to Bismark, always been marked by a vast decentralization of power, and it is to the German-speaking people’s credit that this was maintained for so long. Rome could not conquer and control the German realm. The papacy could not control the German realm. Napoleon could not control the German realm. Various German kings could not control the German realm.
The reason for this, of course, is because political power was decentralized, so even though would-be conquerers could take bits and chunks from the German realm and attempt to impose their will upon the people there, it would be impossible for the same conquerer to do so throughout the realm because there were so many different venues and outlets for political mechanisms. That is, the German realm was acephalous, and therefore impossible to govern from the outside.
Marx’s desire for centralized control of a unified German state echoes the sentiments of would-be conquerers and rulers of the German realm since at least the time of the Roman Republic. The reasons put forth for the necessity of governing the German realm through one central location differed immensely. Tacitus believed it was necessary for Rome to govern the German realm in order to stop them from fighting each other. The popes throughout the ages sought to prevent heresy. With Napoleon, it was to end feudalism. Marx sought the centralization of power so that the German working class could rise to global preeminence.
Different excuses for different time periods, but the same concept – power – was sought by all in the drive for centralization of political authority.
In our time, as in Marx’s, it has been the relentless and pervasive influence of nationalism on public life that has served as the subconscious harbinger of the centralization of power. Even Marx, who deceitfully claimed to be an internationalist, was captivated by the idea of a Prussian military victory over the French, so as to ensure that the French intellectuals and French people became subservient to German ideas and German social organization. I want to pull a quote from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, and challenge the reader to see if he or she can find any connection between Hitler’s thought on political organization and Karl Marx’s.
Hitler, a party member of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party and a major benefactor of Bismark’s drive for centralization of political power, had this to say about political organization:
“National Socialism, as a matter of principle, must lay claim to the right to force its principles on the whole German nation without consideration of previous federated state boundaries [i.e. a decentralized power structure – BC], and to educate in its ideas and conceptions. Just as the churches do not feel bound and limited by political boundaries, no more does the National Socialist idea feel limited by the individual state territories of our fatherland. The National Socialist doctrine is not the servant of individual federated states, but shall some day become the master of the German nation. It must determine and reorder the life of a people, and must, therefore, imperiously claim the right to pass over [state] boundaries drawn by a development we have rejected.”
Again, we must be aware of the difference between the superficial messages that are espoused by adherents of political doctrines (like religion, nationalism, class, etc.) and the underlying concepts of what it is exactly that such a message would likely bring about structurally to political institutions. The horrors of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party were accomplished because opposition to centralized political control was crushed.
We must also remember the idea of unintended consequences, and how even the best-intentioned plans can go awry very quickly. Karl Marx may have sought the centralization of political power to further the interests of the German working class in order to launch a worldwide worker’s revolution. The National Socialist German Worker’s Party was just one of many results of Marx’s desire to remake man in his own image. By focusing on the limited and narrow interests of just one faction among many, a wide array of so-called great thinkers have lent credence to the cause of tyranny.
Just look at the case of Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author of Open Veins of Latin America, the now-famous book given to President Obama by the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Mr. Galeano is an ardent Marxist. That is, he believes that a state’s resources are best used when a centralized authority – run by an elite of highly educated men and women – can distribute all of a state’s resources in the most equitable manner to those who reside in a given state. Thus he also a nationalist. And an isolationist, for if a state’s resources are controlled by the state and to be divied up among a state’s members, there is no possible room for other states in the Marxist equation of equitable redistribution. Listen to the praise he heaps upon one of Latin America’s most vicious rulers:
“The long, iron-fisted dictatorship of Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1814-1840) had incubated an autonomous, sustained development process in the womb of isolation. The all-powerful paternalist state filled the place of a nonexistent national bourgeoisie in organizing the nation and orienting its resources and its destiny. Francia had used the peasant masses to crush the Paraguayan oligarchy, and had established internal peace by erecting a cordon sanitaire between Paraguay and the other countries of the old La Plata viceroyalty. Expropriations, exilings, jails, persecutions, and fines had been used – not to consolidate the internal power of landlords and merchants, but for their destruction. Political liberties and the right of opposition neither existed nor would come into being later, but in that historical stage the lack of democracy only disturbed people who were nostalgic for lost privileges. There were no great private fortunes when Francia died […]”
Again, we can see that the centralization of power seems to be an integral part of not only redistributing wealth, but of isolating a state’s people from the outside world, just as an abusive spouse seeks to isolate his or her partner from friends and family. If you look at the date of Francia’s reign of terror, you can see that his regime was just before Marx’s time. Ideas are very old, but the way in which they are espoused change with the times.
Now observe Friedrich Hayek on how socialism inevitably leads to “violent nationalism”:
“It may, indeed, be questioned whether anyone can realistically conceive of a collectivist program other than in the service of a limited group, whether collectivism can exist in any form other than that of some kind of particularism, be it nationalism, racialism, or classism. The belief in the community of aims and interests with fellow-men seems to presuppose a greater degree of similarity of outlook and thought than exists between men merely as human beings […] Collectivism on a world scale seems to be unthinkable – except in the service of a small ruling elite […]
One of the inherent contradictions of the collectivist philosophy is that, while basing itself on the humanistic morals which individualism has developed, it is practicable only within a relatively small group. That socialism so long as it remains theoretical is internationalist, while as soon as it is put into practice, whether in Russia or Germany, it becomes violently nationalist, is one of the reasons why ‘liberal socialism’ as most people in the Western world imagine it is purely theoretical, while the practice of socialism is everywhere totalitarian […]
It is a necessary consequence of this view [that the ‘community’ or the state is prior to the individual] that a person is respected only as a member of the group, that is, only if and in so far as he works for the recognized common ends, and that he derives his whole dignity only from this membership and not merely from being a man. Indeed, the very concepts of humanity and therefore of any form of internationalism are entirely products of the individualist view of man, and there can be no place for them in a collectivist system of thought […]
The definitely antagonistic attitude which most planners take toward internationalism is further explained by the fact that in the existing world all outside contacts of a group are obstacles to their effectively planning the sphere in which they can attempt it […] The nationalist and imperialist propensities of socialist planners, much more common than is generally recognized, are not always as flagrant as […] some of the other early Fabians, with whom enthusiasm for planning was characteristically combined with the veneration for the large and powerful political units and a contempt for the small state.”
Hayek’s lengthy exposé on socialism (including Marxism) and its inevitable connection with nationalism should help to clarify why Marxist regimes everywhere, once violently put into practice, immediately turned to domestic tyranny and foreign antagonism as general policies until their top-heavy regimes crumbled in on themselves. I hope that it also serves as an example of how centralizing political power leads to the erosion of individual liberty both domestically and abroad.
So now let us turn our attention to domestic American politics. Currently our central legislators are attempting to maintain a system of collectivist policies that are falling apart as we speak. Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, national education policies, national agricultural policies, national financial policies, national environmental policies, national trading policies, a bellicose foreign policy, etc., etc. Now let us also hearken back to my musings on what I think to be a comprehensive social theory. Do any of these national policies take into account the social whole? Or do they more resemble Marx’s pleading for central political power in the name of narrow special interests?
Do the advocates of these national planning policies harbor a healthy respect for decentralized political institutions (i.e. republicanism)? Or do they despise it?