Marxism is not a political ideal in itself, but a theory of social evolution which has produced new ideas ofCommunism as a product of poverty of the masses, and secular corruption. This article explores the derivation and implication of the theory that led to socialism, as well as some of the common myths on the topic.
- Historical Background
- Origins of Divine and Natural Law
- Early Divergence in Divine and Natural Law
- The American Social Contract
- The Balance of Power
- New Ideas
- Marxism as Social Evolution
- Engels and Communism
- Lenin's Promulgation to Practice
- Mao and the Communist Party
This series,All People are Created Equal, contains six prior topics.
Origins of Divine and Natural Law
The first topic, "The Origins of Natural Law," tracednatural law back toHesiod in the 8th Century BCE(links in this paragraph open that article). Hesiod'sLegend of the Golden Age recorded how people sought justice and humility, in order to return to an original state of purity. Hesiod's legend even reached theHuang'Lao in China. In the 4th Century BCE,Socrates conceived anIdeal Social Contract as a way for rational beings to establish harmonious existence. Shortly thereafter,Aristotle recognized that corruption of ideals is ienvitable, concluding that democracy is the least-worse of evils.
Early Divergence in Divine and Natural Law
The second topic, "Early Divergence in Divine and Natural Law," starts in the 1st century BCE, whenCicero definedLex Gentium. In his new tradition ofStoicism, Cicero derived natural law from the necessary conditions of existence in order, to restore the peaceful nobility of the Golden Age. In the 6th century,Justinian incorporated Cicero's ideas into the first attempt atLegal Codification. However, a movement back toreligious instead of secular authority had already started. In the 4th Century,Augustine had declared natural law was in defiance of the Laws of God. In the ensuing Dark Ages, Justinian's law was destroyed, and only discovered again 1,900 years later. For about 900 years, philosophy was replaced by a widespreadTheocracy. During this time, the Far East consolidated ideas of Taoism and Confucianism intoNeoconfucianism. But in the Middle East, Western ideas of theocracy even spread into the Arab tribal culturea via the new religion of Islam, started byMuhammed in the 7th century. In the 12th century, the Islamic MoorAverroes identified inconsistencies in theological doctrines which made it difficult to define how legal cases could be resolved. In the a massive treatise responding to this and thousands of other theological objections,Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century conflated Hesiod's idea of a Golden Age with Eden, suggesting that divine law could promulgate from divine purity, via natural science, into common law; but due to human misunderstanding, common law is prone to unintentional error, therefore differing from our intuitive sense of right and wrong.
The American Social Contract
The third topic, "The American Social Contract," started with howGutenberg changed civilization by making the first printed bible in 1456 (links in this paragraph open that article). With the rapid spread of printed books in the 1500s, the church no longer could maintainauthority by awe. After Martin Luther published his 95 theses as a reaction against abuses in the sale of indulgences, Protestant ideas emphasizing personal salvation from God the Son overturned the paternal Catholic church, and new ideas on secular authority again started to emerge in the 17th century.Hugo Grotius published "On the Law of War and Peace in 1625, advocating that nations could coexist by mutual agreement to enforce law. Building on Cicero'slex gentium, Grotius created the idea ofPositive Law, now known asNatural Rights.Thomas Hobbes published "Leviathan" in 1651, inventing a new imaginaryState of Nature, wherein we conceive of society without any authority. Hobbes believed human nature to be essentially evil, and therefore, in order to prevent savage violence, we need aSocratic Social Contract with authority to enable civilized peace. To both Grotius and Hobbes, authority remained imperialistic.John Locke then combined the ideas of Grotius and Hobbes to define the rational social contract and rights toLife,Liberty, andPursuit of Happiness as they exist in the United States.
The Balance of Power
The fourth topic, "Balance of Power in the United States," explored how natural law works as a homeostatic power system. When the government passes legislation that unbalances the social contract, the nation disempowers the government via rising dissent. TheRousseau defined aGeneral Will that increases the LockeanState of War, causing corresponding conflicts in society. The framers therefore used the ideas ofMontesquieu to define a tripartite balance of power in government. This permits democratic adjustments in representation and legislation, or in extreme cases, constitutional amendments. When lawmakers adjust rights and constrictions on the public correctly, dissent decreases. The social contract is rebalanced, authority is restored to the government, and the nation is empowered again.
The fifth topic, "New ideas in Natural Law," examines extensions and additions to natural law theory from after Rousseau to the current day. In the 250 years since the United States defined a constitution, various extensions were added to the original notions.Utilitarian ideas from Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill made punishment proprotional to crime, enabled soft crimes such as speeding, and created new ways for society to agree on conventions, where sacrificing a small amount of liberty could improve liberty for all. Ideas oflegal positivism in the 20th century created new ways to consider how law should apply, particularly to minorites.Transcendentalism suggested new kinds ofa priori anda posteriori truth.Atheistic social contracts attempt to remove God from USA's social contract.Human rights define universal rights by concensus.
While Karl Marx (1818-1883) favored ideas of communism,Marxism itself does not refer to communism as a separate ideology at all, but instead as a component in a theory of social evolution, derived from Hegel's methodology ofdialectical idealism.
Hegel himself attributes the methodology toKant's transcendental theories of reason, but expounds in practice to extraordinary depth. According to this method, any process of reason has three stages:thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
A thesis, simply by its statement, gives rise to a reaction that contradicts or negates the thesis. The tension between thesis and antithesis creates a conflict in reason which is resolved by their synthesis. However, Hegel observed the synthesis is itself another thesis too, which gives rise to another antithesis, and another synthesis. Hegel therefore observes that adialectic can start with any premise, and through the process of reasonable argument, create a series of rational deductions and contradictions which, in the process of their continued resolution, continually refines the idea of truth.
Marx extended Hegel's idea to apply to political evolution in a society. Each formulation of a political system is a thesis for the best way to rule, which by its existence creates an antithetical movement that objects to that political system. If the society can evolve to synthesize both views, then it continues; if not, then the society collapses due to internal strife and failure, or due to rebellion.
In this reformulation of Hegelianism, Marx converts the ideas of conceptual evolution into practical, or material terms. In his typical contrarian manner, Marx dogmatically indicates how his system applies the Hegelian dialectic of thought to political systems with time causing the movement to synthesis and subsequent thesis/antithesis, rather than empirical reason.
My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of 'the Idea', he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea'. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.
Das Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx (Hamburg, 1887)
While posing his methodology as antithetical to Hegel, he still deduces the stages of political evolution rationally, so the system is still known asdialectical materialism.
The above prefix to Marxist theories of socialism might appear unnecessary, but it was in fact this approach that led Marx to invent new political ideas, for which he simply asked:
- What is the underlying thesis of all Western government?
To which the answer is, almost so obvious as to be ignored,
- A right to own private property has been assumed in all Western government.
Therefore, in considering an antithesis to Western government that could fix its failures, Marx is logically led to conclude:
- Denial of the individual right to own property is the correct antithesis to failed Western government.
When governments fail due the massive accrual of property by an elite privileged minority, perhaps the removal of rights to property altogether is the necessary change in the social contract which can rebalance the society. Core to Marxism is the idea of a rulingbourgeoisie that over time, exists in an escalating state of conflict:
In its rational form, it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time, also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.
Das Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx (Hamburg, 1887)
Marx on Democracy and Revolution
Besides the view that Jefferson's natural rights in the USA's declaration of Independence are only known through intuition, Marx's own views on democracy and revolution are the single most incorrectly repeated topics in theories of natural law.
As described in detail above, Marx held that Aristotle's idea of Democracy as the least-worse alternative is simply one view in a continual spectrum. As a democracy evolves, those in power simply continue to accrue power, due to the acknowledged corruptions in the system. Eventually, the antithetical forces rebel against it, and another political system is put in its place. That is to say, contrary to common views on Marxism, no particular political system is any better than any other.
As to whether this social evolution requires a violent revolution in order to depose those in power, Marx changed his mind several times in his life. On the one hand, he felt such an immense change to the social contract, as to remove the right to own private property at all, would require an immense injustice, and therefore immense turmoil, before it could even become possible. On the other hand, revolution should not be necessary if those in power realized their authority was in such threat of removal, and would naturally seek socialist ideas to maintain thestatus quo. Even so, the change in both cases results in a revolution—one of violence, and the other of mindset. This was the violent kernel Marx could not ignore, as to the less educated, there can only be only violent revolution. hence in the case of a severely suppressed majority, Marx had trouble arguing that a revolution in mindset would ever be sufficient, in particular because the impoverished majority had no concept itself of a social contract, nor of a Lockean balance between rights and rules to avoid a State of War, and merely perceived its own persecution as unjust. Thus Marx reluctantly, yet forcibly, returned to his first conclusion: a socialist system could only start by a violent deposing of a corrupt and over-wealthybourgeoisie by a depressed and impoverishedproletariat class; even though in ultimate terms of Marxist theory, no class has any particular virtue over any other, nor is any particular system of government better than any other; all are simply a continuum of development, as one material government results in such disorder that its antithesis removes it, to create a new synthesis of political order.
Thus, notwithstanding the fact that no political system is better than any other in Marxism, Marx still can exercise the theory of dialectical materialism himself to propose new realizations of ancient political ideals. The most significant is now known ascommunism, on which Marx is said to have worked with Engels in theCommunist Manifesto. However since Engels was actually paying Marx, it's really Engels, not Marxism, which has sadly led to Marx's amazing contribution of dialectical materialism to be scorned as propaganda too. The manifesto starts with a restatement of dialectical materialism:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (London, 1848)
They examine all the various classes of feudal and democratic societies, seeking which could synthesize a better society: the feudal masters, the manufacturers, the shopkeepers, the artisans, the peasants, the slaves, the criminals...and the proletariat. This last class, first defined in ancient Rome, are the poorest of free men, without rights to vote, and often without sufficient education even to read.
All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air...The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:
- In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.
- In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (London, 1848)
As a consequence, Marx and Engels deduce that virtue of the proletariat itself, as a class without property, is the most noble ideal for everyone in a better society, thus eradicating the long history of natural law dating from Cicero, through Aquinas and Hobbes, to Locke and Jefferson:
But don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, &c. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class. The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property – historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production – this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you. What you see clearly in the case of ancient property, what you admit in the case of feudal property, you are of course forbidden to admit in the case of your own bourgeois form of property.
Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (London, 1848)
Marx defined the theory, and Engels helped him define it as a form of constitution. Yet while many thought he had an interesting idea (even if rather antagonistic at times), there remained no practical implementation of the theory until Lenin (1870-1924). After the Bolshevik revolution, Lenin led the change from the Russian Republic (1917-1918), through the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1918-1924), to the Soviet Union (1922-1924). He started with the same idea of social evolution:
As the most comprehensive and profound doctrine of development, and the richest in content, Hegelian dialectics was considered by Marx and Engels the greatest achievement of classical German philosophy.... "The great basic thought", Engels writes, "that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things, apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away... this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that, in its generality, it is now scarcely ever contradicted. But, to acknowledge this fundamental thought in words, and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation, are two different things.... For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it, except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy, itself, is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain." Thus, according to Marx, dialectics is "the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought".
On the Question of Dialectics: A Collection, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (Moscow, posthumous, 1925)
Lenin applied this theory to social, legal, and economic reform:
The Soviet authority will at once propose a democratic peace to all nations and an immediate armistice on all fronts. It will safeguard the transfer without compensation of all land – landlord, imperial, and monastery – to the peasants' committees; it will defend the soldiers' rights, introducing a complete democratization of the army; it will establish workers' control over industry; it will ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly on the date set; it will supply the cities with bread and the villages with articles of first necessity; and it will secure to all nationalities inhabiting Russia the right of self-determination.".
To Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants!, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (Moscow, 1917)
With the vast geographic and economical scale of these changes, disruptions in the fabric of life persisted, with many associated problems mentioned inDespots and Communism at the beginning of the essay, particularly with the subsequent assumption of power by Stalin. One may nonetheless ask whether such ideals could in fact promulgate to a better system of rule, now that the idea is not so new. This topic, among others, is addressed here inTranscendental and Atheistic Social Contracts.
Many point to the corruptions which inevitably arise as proof that Marx was wrong. In fact, Marx himself would only have said that the communism he advocated for the proletariat was only a stepping stone in a massively corrupted system, to raise the standard of living for a vastly impoverished nation. The antithesis is inevitable: a gradual and increasing quality of education, and improvement in quality of life, leading to the proletariat desiring personal property again; to which the communist leaders can either modify their social contract, and again permit private property; or themselves be deposed by the same process which put them in power.
After the Soviet Union's long struggle to create a ideal society, antithetical to all prior Western governments by denying rights to property, an astoundingly beautiful revolutionary appeared in China called Mao Tse-tung (1893–1976). He was an autocrat who named himself Chairman of the Communist Party of China, and from its establishment in 1949, tried a new spin on Marxist/Leninist theory, commonly known as Maoism. Like Russia was at first, Chairman Mao was also leading a large and incredibly impoverished proletariat—in fact, far larger, and far more impoverished. Chairman Mao also had the benefit of hindsight, as Russia had no prior model on which to base its government. In his first years of power, Chairman Mao followed Lenin's model by solidifying his control through land reform campaigns against landlords.
Usually of note in the West is his 1957 'Great Leap Forward' campaign that aimed to rapidly transform China's economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. The West criticized his campaign as causing death by famine by ~30 million, which compared to the 700-million population, was about 1 in 50 people—definitely a tragedy, but realistically, about the same as the number who died from worker abuses during the West's own industrial revolution. Also the West points to his decade long 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,' starting in 1966, during which there was violent class struggle between those whose wealth was increasing, and the rest; also resulting in much destruction and exploitation of historical treasures across the land. Up to 6 million landlords were sent to labor camps in a massive campaign to prevent further exploitation of the poor. More tragic is the death of up to 1 million in that decade, and many millions more previously for the same reason. The third most noted item is Mao welcoming President Nixon to China, which was really of no interest to any Chinese whatsoever except an insignificant and miniscule minority.
The Party Size
Rather than thinking about Nixon, the people of China were far more struggling with Mao's party system, starting with its size. Mao had attempted from the start to stop the emergence of a new privileged elite by creating an enormous political party, with democratic rights to vote and control itself. Western attention has focused on atrocities, and while many have occurred, it also cannot be denied that the Western press seeks to demonize communism at every opportunity. As already mentioned regardingMarxist ideas, revolution and massive social disorder are unavoidable consequences of adopting such an entirely political model, and those who were benefitting from the prior social order are especially unlikely not to resist the new social order in every way possible in a country withoutany prior concepts whatsoever of charitable deeds, or nobly acting for the greater good (such as were the emphasis ofChristianity andCicero's long legacy).
With the sheer size of the population, the top-level voting party was an incredibledelegation of 7,000 to Beijing. Each of those 7,000 represent the local jurisdictions. In the local jurisdictions, the total number of party members has been impossible to know until recently, as the benefits of computers and the information age have finally started to reach into the slowly more wealthy proletariat.
With China's 2015 population reported as '1,376,048,943,' that means 1 in 15 are a member of the party, and each has voting rights in party decisions. This compares with, for example, the State of California, where each assembly member represents 485,000 Californian citizens. But in China, even national representation is superior.Each national delegate in China represents ~12,500 party members and ~200,000 Chinese citizens. By comparison, each congressman in Washington DC represents ~760,000 Americans. Furthermore, every member of the Chinese Communist party has equal voting rights. This all leads to the following rather surprising conclusion.
If it is true that democracy is the most superior political system, it is not surprising than China is catching up so rapidly, and even overtaking the USA in some sectors. This was the legacy for which Chairman Mao really deserves to be remembered, rather than the horrid persecution and deaths that he certainly did not want either. As to its evolution towards a more capitalist society, with more rights and freedoms of the individuals, that also is occurring in line with Marxist theory.
- Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich.To Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants! (Moscow, 1917). Retrieved fromhttps://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/oct/25-26/25b.htm
- Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich.On the Question of Dialectics: A Collection (posthumous) (Bolshevik, 1925). Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/misc/x02.htm.
- Marx, Karl.Das Capital, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital (Hamburg, 1887). Retrieved fromhttps://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/.
- Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels.Manifesto of the Communist Party (London, 1848). Retrieved fromhttps://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/.
- Meyer, Ernest.Origins of Natural Law (Yofiel, 2016).http://www.yofiel.com/social-contract/the-origins-of-natural-law.
- Meyer, Ernest.Early Divergence in Divine and Natural Law (Yofiel, 2016).http://www.yofiel.com/social-contract/divergence.
- Meyer, Ernest.The Social Contract in the United States (Yofiel, 2016).http://www.yofiel.com/social-contract/american-social-contract.
- Meyer, Ernest.Balance of Power in the United States (Yofiel, 2016).http://www.yofiel.com/social-contract/power.
- Meyer, Ernest.New Ideas in Natural Law: Rousseau to Current Day (Yofiel, 2016).http://www.yofiel.com/social-contract/new.