Karl Marx and Communism, Karl Marx Communism
The terms socialism and communism have no exact meaning as they are used today, but in the Marxian system they refer to stages that will occur in the historical process. Socialism, a set of relations of production that will follow capitalism, contains some vestiges of capitalism, according to Marx. One of the chief characteristics of capitalism, he said, is that the means of production, capital, are not owned or controlled by the proletariat. The major change that occurs in the transition from capitalism to socialism is that the expropriators are expropriated—the proletariat now owns the means of production. However, under socialism, a remaining vestige of capitalism is that economic activity is still basically organized through the use of incentive systems: rewards must still be given in order to induce people to labor.
Communism, as the concept was used by Marx, will emerge from the socialist economies. A communist economy would be quite different from a socialist economy. People would no longer be motivated to work by monetary or material incentives, and the social classes that existed under capitalism, and to a lesser extent under socialism, would disappear. Communism is a classless society in which the state has withered away. Under socialism, each person contributes to the economic process according to his or her ability and receives an income according to his or her contribution; under communism, each contributes according to his or her ability but consumes according to his or her needs.
As you can see, Marxian thought regards human beings as perfectible and human goodness as suppressed and distorted by existing society. This approach follows the intellectual lineage of the philosophical anarchists that began with William Godwin.
There are several levels at which one can analyze Marxian economics. The first is philosophical. Is it a correct reading of human nature to see the market as inherently alienating? Will a communistic society reveal that humans are basically good? A second level of analysis concerns practicality. Even if the market is alienating, is there a practical alternative to it? Some find the idea of a society of pure or ideal communism desirable, but they doubt its practicality. The fundamental issue dividing these views is whether environmental or instinctive forces are more important in determining patterns of human behavior. In any event, one appealing facet of Marxism is the view that humans are basically good and that undesirable behavior is a result of the institutional environment.
Related to these issues is a criticism of Marx's dialectic that points out that the entire system is not truly an ongoing dialectic but is teleological, because all conflict between the forces and relations of production ceases with the emergence of communism. Marx's theory of history is directed toward an end, communism. But why would contradictions cease with the emergence of communism? Would it not be more reasonable to conclude that as long as the forces of production remain dynamic, contradictions will always exist within any society? To avoid this criticism, some modern Marxists, such as Richard Wolff and Stephen Resnick, have reinterpreted Marx's dialectic as overdeterminism. In an overdetermined theory, there can be many possible paths.
Such issues become especially important in terms of the recent developments in many countries. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and the emerging republics are attempting with difficulty, to institute market economies. Dramatic changes are also occurring in Eastern Europe. Throughout the socialist world, socialism and communism are being questioned and experimentation with new forms of social organization is taking place. Even in China, the one large country in which communists remain in control, a stock market now exists and the use of private property and markets is increasing.
//These developments disprove the thesis that society is on a direct path to communism; for many, they argue strongly against Marxian economics. But others reject this view. They argue that even socialism, let alone communism, was not truly tried in these countries, that the so-called communists simply became the oppressors and were, quite rightly, overthrown. Markets do alienate; this creates a contradiction in capitalist society that will ultimately lead to the overthrow of capitalism and the institution of a nonalienating economic system.
Although Marx used the concept, class, throughout his work, and emphasized the class division between workers and capitalists in his formal analysis, his actual discussions of class were quite loose and open-ended. Some modern Marxists recognize that the two-class division did not fit reality; for example, there were farmers and a middle class in Marx's time who belonged in neither the worker nor the capitalist class. Thifs, Marx's use of class can be seen as a simplifying device that can change as social division changes, not specifically a two-part distinction between workers and capitalists.
Marx was wrong in his predictions that class divisions under capitalism would increase. In the society that emerged after the revolution in Russia, the class structure did not disappear. Instead of breaking down, a new class, called the nomencultura, consisting of the bureaucracy, came into being. When these economies began evolving in the 1990s, many of these nomencultura, using their connections and control of resources, became a new class, and maintained control over large aspects of the economy and even over the state.
The likelihood that this class would develop and that the Soviet Union of Stalin's time was merely a transitional phase in the movement toward socialism and communism was made in 1957 by the Yugoslavian Milovan Djilas in The New Class? Djilas's argument was that a new class had arisen that was, under the guise of being socialistic, exploiting the people of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and that a further revolutionary change would be necessary to remove the new oppressing class and continue the road to pure communism. Needless to say, Stalin and Tito were not pleased with this Marxian analysis, so Djilas spent a good deal of time in prison in Yugoslavia. The West also had some trouble with this analysis, for although it was severely critical of so-called communism, it was framed in a Marxian theory of history.
Recent events in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the former Yugoslavia raise other interesting issues concerning ideal socialism, communism, and human nature. Marxian theory, and almost all preceding socialist theory, has a strong idealistic belief in the perfectibility of humankind. One aspect of this belief concerns the ethnic and nationalistic feeling possessed throughout the world in countries with varying economic and political structures. Marxian theory maintains that people under socialism will set aside their ethnic and nationalistic allegiances and regard all persons as comrades: a common bond exists across ethnic and national boundaries that binds all together. According to this view, ethnic and nationalistic feelings are a product of capitalism that will disappear under socialism.
Marxists argued that World War I was a war by capitalists in imperialistic competition for raw materials and final goods markets. They said that the proletariats of Germany, France, Britain, and all other countries, should recognize their commonality and refuse to serve in the armies or to work in the factories; they should call for a general strike that would halt the conflict. Nationalistic feelings were evidently much stronger than these pleas, as evidenced by the fact that the death toll of World War I was about 10 million. Marxists respond that their pleas during World War I were ignored because the proletariat was caught in the ideology of capitalism.
Marxism has never been as important in American intellectual history as in European. The Marxists did assert that the shame of America, the discrimination against African Americans—what the economist Gunnar Myrdal called the American dilemma—was an inherent part of capitalism; and they promised that after the revolution and movement to socialism, discrimination would cease. It is interesting to juxtapose these claims of solidarity under socialism against recent history in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Seventy-plus years of socialism from 1917 until the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have evidently not cooled the intense ethnic and nationalistic sentiments that have existed for centuries. It may be true that people are basically good and that undesirable behavior results not from human nature but from the institutional structure. Recent experience indicates, however, that the culprit may not be capitalism but some other factor common to many economic systems.