--Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72), as quoted in Marx: A Political Biography
The theory of Communism may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property. —The Manifesto of the Communist Party, section 2, paragraph 13.
What nonsense. But Marx had been travelling through Germany, France, Belgium, and England in the years preceding the Manifesto. This was the end of the Industrial Revolution: "the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power, and the development of machine tools. It also included the change from wood and other bio-fuels to coal." However, "while growth of the economy's overall productive powers was unprecedented during the Industrial Revolution, living standards for the majority of the population did not grow meaningfully until the late 19th and 20th centuries, and in many ways workers' living standards declined under early capitalism." In reaction to this exploitation of poor workers, the wealth that was in the hands of the captains of industry, and the recent ability to truly question the rule of kings, Marx decided we should throw it all away and he preached a new message to ears that were hungry to hear about change.
Wherever the want of clothing forced them to it, the human race made clothes for thousands of years, without a single man becoming a tailor.
Besides longing to return to the thousands of years of nasty, brutish, and short human existence, this is a highly ironic expression of individualism coming from the originator of communism. Biological cells aren't generalists. They specialise to work together to create a much better organism. And although humans aren't mere cells, neither are they lone islands existing outside of societies either. We can and should specialise, in non-binding ways, to work together to create a much better whole. Let's see where else I said Marx went wrong when I analysed the survival strength of his major ideas in my original evolutionary philosophy.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement. He published various books during his lifetime, with the most notable being The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867–1894). Revolutionary socialist governments espousing Marxist concepts took power in a variety of countries in the 20th century. Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.
Marx’s doctoral thesis, which he finished in 1841, has been described as a daring and original piece of work in which he set out to show that theology must yield to the superior wisdom of philosophy. In 1843, Marx published Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, in which he dealt more substantively with religion, describing it as "the opiate of the people.” Religion must give way to philosophy. Religious answers have been a soothing opiate that endangers humanity with calls for subservience or detachment that lead to stagnation. Truth comes from scientific discovery, not from divine revelation.
Needs to Adapt
Another famous Marx quote, from his Critique of Gotha Programme, was, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Abilities are diversely distributed through the population of a successful species. Need alone, however, is no basis for the distribution of wealth. This does nothing to provide incentives for work and progress, which are necessary for the survival of the species. From each according to his ability to each according to his effort.
Marx's theories about society, economics, and politics, which are collectively known as Marxism, hold that all societies progress through class struggle; a conflict between an ownership class which controls production and a lower class which produces the labor for such goods. Heavily critical of the current socio-economic form of society, capitalism, he called it the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie," believing it to be run by the wealthy classes purely for their own benefit, and predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, it would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system, socialism. He argued that under socialism society would be governed by the working class in what he called the "dictatorship of the proletariat," the "workers’ state" or "workers' democracy.” He believed that socialism would, in its turn, eventually be replaced by a stateless, classless society called communism. Society progresses through class cooperation. Conflicts between the classes lead to inefficiencies and instability. Unchecked capitalism promotes class differences, class competition, and class struggle. Replacing a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, who have money on their side, with a dictatorship of the proletariat, who have numbers on their side, is merely exchanging one form of class struggle for another. Putting people in charge who are led by a competitive outlook on life and have previously been squashed under that competition is a perfect recipe for what happened in the brutal communist regimes of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Cambodia, Cuba, Angola, and others. Marx’s revolution was a cure far worse than the disease he diagnosed.
In 1867 the first volume of Das Kapital was published, a work which analyzed the capitalist process of production. Here, Marx elaborated his labor theory of value and his conception of surplus value and exploitation, which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of industrial capitalism. Labor is not the primary means of producing value - the use of technology and knowledge as the means of production are the primary creators of value. Surplus value comes about from capitalist owners having access to technology and knowledge that laborers do not have access to and cannot bargain for. Exploitation comes from this access, which arises after small differences in the rate of material accumulation become amplified through continued investment and inheritance of that material towards ever more expensive means of production. This does not lead to a collapse of profits as Marx forecasted; this leads to a concentration of profits, which can be used to fortify the owners’ access to the means of production, thus entrenching capitalism. What undermines capitalism is not the falling rate of profits, but the rising levels of inequality that foment revolution. This is a threat to the stability of society and the survival of the species. This is why access to the means of production must be shared. This is why employee-owned cooperatives are a more just and sustainable means of organizing corporations and the economy. These cooperatives must compete with one another, thus ensuring their continued investment in progress, but no few individuals capture an unfair portion of the profits to be used for exploitative means. The same principles of checks and balances of power that make government cooperative and tenable must be applied to corporations as well.
Marx's tombstone bears the carved message of the final line of The Communist Manifesto: "Workers of all lands, unite!” It shouldn’t be just Marx’s workers. All humans, unite with each other for life!
Jesus of Nazareth was the first in this series to give spiritual strength to the poor and the meek, and the religion of Christianity that followed his messages eventually rose to power and dogmatically kept its stern boot upon the people of the medieval age for a thousand years. Luckily, the reign of Marx's underclass didn't last as long, although its terrors were inflicted upon billions in China and all the satellites in the sphere of the Former Soviet Union. As a grim illustration of this, the picture above is one I took from a beating room in the KGB Museum in Lithuania where enemies of the state were made to suffer for any thoughts expressed against their ludicrous rule. The chains of oppression were simply handed from the upper class to the lower class, and what a disaster that proved to be. We can see that now. But as Marx said:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
Marx unquestionably managed to change the world, but its just as clear now that he did so for the worse. It's up to new philosophers to interpret him and the rest of our past in order to figure out how to change the world for the better. Let's drop the class struggles, learn the lessons from evolution about how to survive and thrive by balancing competition and cooperation, and work together to find that better way!