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Last of the True Marxists

December 19, 2011

(Photograph: Reuters)

The irreplaceable and lamented Christopher Hitchens once said he liked religious fundamentalists. They read the books and – Jew, Christian, Muslim – took the writing seriously. Believed what God said. Didn’t engage in sophistry to say it is all metaphor, that it is compatible with science, that it is not meant to be taken literally. No, the fundamentalists are the honest ones.

Same with Marxists.

Kim Jong-il, as far as I am concerned, ranks with Pol Pot. They took Marx at his word. No softening at the edges. Gave us the real thing.

A dictatorship of the proletariat. Eliminate the reactionary classes which, anyway, have been condemned by History. Everything in collective ownership, no exceptions along the lines of Lenin’s NEP. All the bourgeoisie trucked out of town not to be seen again or, in the case, of the heroic Pol Pot, marched out of town to perish in the jungles. Mao was true to these glorious principles as well, especially in his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution phases.

If Marx, in his angry, tortured mature life, had been told that one day there would be states with rule by a single workers’ party, collective ownership of the means of production, boasting total elimination of the capitalist class he would have nodded sagely and said, yes, that’s what I had in mind.

For years, growing up politically, I looked with bemusement and disdain at an Australian left that made excuses for all of these regimes and until very late in the piece – for some, not till 1968 – considered it inappropriate to join American imperialism in condemning them.

Vale great Marxist teacher, Kim Jong-il.

  1. December 19, 2011 6:27 pm

    I was embarassed to see our own Stan Grant CNN correspondent in BeiJing sprout some silly nonsense which shows a lack of understanding, in ancient chinese texts the writer would use the phrase “the common people were forced to eat the bark off trees” code for there was no food because the evil ruler had lost the mandate of heaven or any right to rule and people suffer as a consequence, the Koreans inheriting their writing style from classical chinese and much of the symbolism.

    There is no doubt that things have been grim and people starved, I agree 100% though with your main point idoleolgy driuven utopias where people suffered, maybe the teaparty ewill be granted their own dream.

  2. Nicola permalink
    December 20, 2011 1:46 am

    Bob, you are completely wrong on this issue I’m afraid. Marx and Lenin’s conceptions of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ are worlds apart. Lenin’s corruption of the term saw the ‘dictatorship’ as a state of affairs in which an ACTUAL dictatorship ruled the country on behalf of the proletariat (a misguided project inevitably doomed to failure).

    On the other hand, Marx saw the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as a society in which the proletariat dominated governance via DEMOCRATIC means. In similar terms, he saws the current Capitalist state as dominated by the bourgeoisie – it was a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Furthermore he believed that the domination of the proletariat democratically would lead to the removal of all classes, as they would act in the interests of all people. He even believed (as many forget) that advanced capitalist nations like Britain could transfer to Socialism and eventually Communism without a violent revolution at all, purely achieving their aims within capitalist democratic means.

    Young Marx’s views, which have been popular with the Western Left for the last few decades, pale in comparison to his mature works, and although I hold you in utmost respect, you clearly do not understand them. Marx in his later life believed Communism could not exist without the elimination of scarcity (which facilitates the ability to fulfil all needs), which would in turn lead to all labour becoming voluntary.This would be achieved via technological progress under Capitalism, which he actually praised for its many (if incomplete) advances. Neither of these conditions exist in ANY so-called Communist State, nor did he believe autocracy (which he abhorred) could ever achieve them.

    Marx made many mistakes, to be sure, and many of the foundations of his theory (such has his belief that the proletariat would remain propertyless, and that would be Capitalism uncompromising) turned out to be wrong. But his lasting contribution is a belief in the continuous questioning of the world and its social structures through rational means, and discovering practical means of radically improving them.

    In his ideal state, Marx believed that the people would rule themselves, not be ruled. I assure you that he would be turning in his grave at the dictatorships and atrocities committed in his name rather than ‘nodding sagely’ at imagined successes.

  3. December 20, 2011 6:53 am

    I think Marx’s notion of a proletarian democracy are well expressed in his writings on the Paris Commune. It seems Leninists departed from these fundamental ideas. There are no doubt wiser heads than mine who can write in far greater depth on this. Marx certainly helped us form some of our modern disciplines like sociology but his anti- religious stance and failure to address psychological issues has always been a problem for me.

  4. Martin Spencer permalink
    December 20, 2011 10:54 am

    Two points:

    – It has been bizarre to hear both channel 9 and the ABC in Australia saying quote: “North Korea is in mourning”. They should have a good hard look at themselves.

    – If you read Hitchens then you would not have written the rest of your article. Many many on the left rejected the marxism practiced first in the soviet union and then China. This leader worship is the reactionary position that is a throwback to monarchs and theocrats. Marx wanted a step forward in which the state would fade away. The very opposite of enforced leader worship and totalitarianism.

    As Bertrand Russel says in ‘The theory and practice of Bolshevism’

    “Friends of Russia … think that “proletariat” means “proletariat,” but “dictatorship” does not quite mean “dictatorship.” This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian sense.”

  5. December 20, 2011 4:53 pm

    BTW how do you know Marx’s matured life was “angry and tortured”. Maybe he was just a grumpy senile old man. Now that’s something to look forward to. In any case WWII put an end to the socilaist experiment in Russia same as the Cultural Revoloution did in China. Nothing happens in a vacuum and as we see a new Cold War emerging between the USA and China we can be assured that we still live in interesting times. It is not the sort of interest I enjoy anymore, nor do I suspect do other Australians and the 99% of Americans..

  6. TerjeP permalink
    December 23, 2011 7:02 am

    Marx in his later life believed Communism could not exist without the elimination of scarcity

    However the elimination of scarcity could not occur with the existence of communism. Catch 22.

  7. Peter permalink
    December 23, 2011 8:23 am

    I agree with Nicola. The condemnation of the mature Marx is wrong and unnecessary insofar as it aids your proposition. But please keep blogging; for Marx the was surely correct in believing in the productive capacity of well-intentioned disagreement.

  8. Peter Pando permalink
    December 24, 2011 4:10 am

    Dear Mr Carr,

    I’m puzzled by “Vale great Marxist teacher”. If he was an honest teacher of a bad (or at best incomplete) system, then why was he also ‘great’? Are we so deficient in understanding industrial economy and human nature that we need more examples of large-scale Marxist failure and domestic cruelty to encourage us to stick to the narrow path? If the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward were as bad as history records, and Polt Pot as murderous, why are Mao’s principles ‘glorious’ and Pol Pot ‘heroic’ in your opinion? If it is sarcasm you intend, the combination with the honourable farewell ‘Vale’ leaves one or the other threadbare.

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