When I say Marxism, it usually elicits one of three reactions. The first and most common is that I have instantly cured my subject’s insomnia and they switch off. The second is the subject becomes “switched on” and begins to associate it with the rise of worker’s rights. And the third and most painstaking is the claim that Marxism justifies dictatorships. It’s at this point that number 3 expects me to pull out a little red book and tell him how he has violated party policy.
I shall not.
More and more often, I hear the mindless foolish babble of the right wing turn to “Marxist communist lefteye” as a bizarre form of insult. Not only is this a bizarre thing to say- it’s a bit like being told that you’re a “belieber” because you listen to pop music- but it also fails to recognise that Marxists and communists are often at odds with each other.
The term “Communism” appears in Marx’s writings when he talks of the perfect state; where the “bourgeois” (upper class) has been dominated by the “proletariat” (working class). Karl Marx tells us that the only way to achieve this state is by a slow process of gradual revolution.
The first step in this movement (simplified) is to establish a governmental leader of some kind. Yes, so long as your society has a leader and is no longer sitting in circles bashing rocks together, you have managed this step (with the exception of the BNP, of course, who are still at rock bashing stage).
The second step is the replacing of the single dictator (usually a monarchy) with a government of upper class land owners, who gradually introduce democracy for the people. And the third and final step is the Proletariat (working class) revolution, which sees each member of society become equal.
But communism has never actually been reached, because the jump between the second and third step is rushed through, rather than allowing the process to occur naturally. Some might argue that a reasonable proletarian society could be achieved even if the removals of bourgeois (upper class) principles were rushed, but I would not be so optimistic.
Without allowing the capitalist stage to merge naturally into communism, the state inevitably ends up with a dictatorship.
When I ask you to think of 3 communist states, inevitably Stalin’s Russia, North Korea and China will be among the top 3. All of these are fine examples of the rushed imposition of communism forcing the country out of capitalism, but leads it back in the direction of a dictatorship.
Marx explains this in a passage from his “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, which is, in my mind, one of the most undervalued allegoric statements ever. Marx was writing about the rise of the French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte after the fall of the French monarchy in 1789. He explained the problem of the revolution;
“In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back to his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue”
In other words, a person learning a new language has to view it like their old language, just as a person observing a new system of leadership needs a long time to stop thinking as though the old system were still in place. The result of rushing the language and rushing the capitalist stage is that the people start to speak in the only language they understand- that of the dictatorship.
When a “communist” revolution is rushed, a dictator will inevitably emerge from the ashes of the deposed leadership. More often than not, the resulting dictator is more power hungry in the name of the people than the original dictator ever was.
In the French revolution, this can be applied to Napoleon Boneparte, who took over and rose in the name of a republic to become a self- appointed emperor.
In the English civil war, Oliver Cromwell took over in the name of parliament to impose his religious beliefs in a totalitarian manner on the people of England, because the roundheads (parliamentary forces who deposed Charles I) could only speak in the language of a dictatorship.
This can also be applied to the three most famous communist states.
In the Russian revolution of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II (the monarch) was deposed by the people and the Bolsheviks took control under Lenin. However, Stalin tells us in his book (Fundamentals of Marxism- Leninism that a proletarian (working class) dictatorship was plausible to both Stalin and Lenin without any hint of irony.
The revolution ended under the control of Stalin after a power struggle in the 1920s. Possibly the worst dictator in history, Stalin gained a seat of power because the revolution had been rushed, so the Russians desired strong leadership in the only language they spoke with stability- dictatorship.
North Korea stemmed from the same line of dictatorships; Alexandra Kim formed the Korean communist party after siding with the Bolsheviks in Siberia in 1916. Then in August 1945, the red army (Stalin’s military) liberated North Korea and a red army captain named Kim Il-Sung was allowed to become leader of this new communist state. Until 1910, Korea had been ruled by an Emperor named Sunjong. So, when a dictator was returned in 1945, the North Koreans welcomed Kim Il-Sung with open arms.
A final example, China was ruled by the Qing dynasty of monarchs until the revolution in 1911, when republicanism was demanded by Sun Yat Sen. However, the process was rushed, so inevitably fell victim to control of a dictator called Mao Zedong in 1945. Mao was also influenced by the writings of Lenin and Stalin’s retelling of the preaching of Lenin. However, the pattern is unavoidable- those who understand only dictatorship cannot rush out of it.
The relationship between communism and dictatorship is, therefore, the pattern that falls into place when history is rushed. By no means is Marxism compatible with dictatorship and it is worth explaining to those who would draw the comparison how the process works exactly and how this predictable process could be avoided while keeping on the path to socialism.
My own thoughts on the matter are that Socialism will either happen or it won’t, but the best way for those who wish to see a true socialist state enacted is to sit tight and look after each other as best as capitalism allows- the probable effects of rushing towards socialism is not worth the potential risks.