Socialism – Historical Perspectives
I’m a crappy substitute for Professor Wolff, being neither an actual Marxist nor an acclaimed professor, and it’s been a hot minute since I’ve read any of this stuff, but here goes anyway! One absolutely crucial thing to remember about Marx is that he was a student of Hegel, and that he owes a lot of his ideas about history to that. From that standpoint, I don’t think Marx would have condoned having a communist revolution in Russia to begin with, as it did not meet the prerequisites. I’m going to have to cover a lot of ground by speaking entirely in gross generalities, and my own recollection may be far from complete or it may have gotten mixed with other things along the way, so please bear with me. 1. Marx thought capitalism was the most powerful engine for economic production we’d come up with. It created an economic power base independent of traditional feudal structures that was necessary in successfully taking down feudalism and creating more democratic power structures. Think 1776 and 1789. And combined with technological advances, it gave us the ability to provide material sufficiency for the masses for the first time in human history. For these reasons, Marx did not think capitalism could be skipped. You needed to have already dealt with your aristocrats, kicked off the industrial age, and formed some kind of republic before you were ready to take the next step. 2. But if capitalism did all that, why get rid of it at all? Well, capitalism (at least the unfettered kind) unfortunately undermines all that goodness by replicating the same power disparity found in older feudal and slave based economies. Capitalists may have made it possible to get rid of the lords, but over time, say a few generations, they pretty much become lords themselves, just minus all that noblesse oblige stuff the old school aristocrats relied on to keep the pitchforks pointed in a safe direction. Here we’re talking about robber barons and Scrooge types. Consult Charles Dickens for more details. Marx more or less got his start by reading about the sort of things that happened in 1776 and 1789, being a big fan of all that liberty and justice talk, then looking around at the world he actually lived in and asking, “Are we there yet?” Obviously we weren’t there yet. It didn’t look like we were even headed in that direction anymore, and he wanted to know why and see what could be done about it. 3. Now, let’s look at Russia. At the time it was still aristocratic, still almost completely agrarian. Most people were still peasants, ruled by lords. They were a century or more behind in terms of what had been going on in places like France and England. Remember again that Marx was a student of Hegel, and an adherent of the Hegelian dialectic version of historical progress. You don’t skip ahead in history. Things build on other things, and you need the stuff you get along the way, like industry and democratic institutions. Lenin, on the other hand, did think you could skip ahead. He wrote somewhere (I don’t remember where) that the Russian people were accustomed to the Mir, a kind of communal agricultural arrangement they had, and that they were therefore natural communists and would be just fine. So he acknowledged Marx’s concerns about laying the proper groundwork, and then rationalized not doing it that way. In the end, Stalin would fast track the industrial development at a terrible human cost and the transition to democratic self governance kind of never really happened. And why would it have, without a Renaissance and an Enlightenment? Democracy never just springs out of the ground fully formed, even in Athens. 4. So, what do I think Marx would have recommended? Not having a communist revolution in Tsarist Russia, for one thing. I think Marx would have argued for focusing on countries like England, France, and Germany, and maybe bootstrapping Russia after that was done. I think Marx would have explained to Lenin that an agrarian peasantry is absolutely not interchangeable with an industrial proletariat. I think Marx would have said that Russia wasn’t ready, and wasn’t going to be ready anytime soon. Obviously I’m leaving out a truckload of fascinating what ifs. Stalin said at the launch of his first Five Year Plan that Russia was backwards, and had ten years to catch up with Europe or face defeat and humiliation. As it turned out, he was only off by two months or so. Hitler invaded right around that ten year mark. What if he hadn’t felt that time was so crucial, and he could have taken fifty years? Would a Fifty Year Plan have been gentler to the Russian people? We’ll never know. For that matter, what if we hadn’t jumped right into the Cold War after the Axis fell? Would that have made a difference? What if Marx had left more of a road map? He seems to have thought that everything would work itself out one way or another once the workers were in charge, because he didn’t really give anyone much to go on for the day after the revolution. There’s one obscure essay where he kinda sorta takes a stab at that question, but I’m not sure anyone actually read it, and I couldn’t find it to review before typing this response. I’m aware that this doesn’t really answer your question, but I hope it at least conveys why there might not be an easy answer to your question.
My gratitude to Sam Barris for this reply. It helps me to see how different forms of society can utilize some form of Marxism.
It is easier for me to see a Narbarian Tribe being a pure Democracy (Rule of the Many, or Proletariat Majority), though the tendency toward Meritocracy with its attendant potential to become strong leader dominated should be avoided, (I think) I believe in giving credit where credit is due, which helps me to see advantages in Meritocracy…or at least Recognition with some kind of status awarded to the high achievers of the tribe. But, I can see where those that achieve would want privilege and privilege can quickly get into the area of domination over less “gifted” fellow tribesmen. Merit is good, but privilege can quickly throw Democracy off balance and less functional as such. This is where maybe the egalitarian concepts of Communism might serve well as balancing Thoughts. I Think “Equal Opportunity” for all, is more useful in a tribal structure, than just everybody is equal…even when We know this is not True. When it comes to Doing in Life, inequality quickly becomes apparent. But the High Achiever should ever be on guard against the urgings of the Ego that one is superior to those who have not achieved what one has achieved. The superiority is real, but it must not be allowed to be used as an excuse for dominant leadership of a group. The high achievers that succumb to this Idea and behave from it, should be given Freedom from the Life of the tribe and sent away from it. Arrogance should always be banished. It is a corruptive influence that can lead to social devolution. Using One’s superior abilities in service to One’s tribe is the Evolutionary concept. The preferred and Right, path.
If One becomes unhappy in service to the tribe, within the Living Zone of the tribe, then it might be better for them to serve the tribe by being an agent of contact and representation, in the other Human realms that also Live on Our Planet.