Marx and Stalin

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Rutgers professor Barbara Foley asks, should we celebrate Marx's birthday? Thanks to Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the 2012 Occupy movement, she writes, "announcements of the death of Marxism are premature:"

Everyone knows that the super-rich are richer than ever, while for most of the working-class majority - many of them caught in the uncertainty of the "gig economy" - belt-tightening has become the new normal.

"Marx was correct," she continues, "when he wrote that capitalism keeps the working class poor:"

He was also spot-on about capital's inherent instability. There is some validity to the joke that "Marxists have predicted correctly 12 of the last three financial crises."

Marx's reputation has made a startling comeback, however, at times in unexpected circles.

In discussing the 2008 financial meltdown, one Wall Street Journal commentator wrote: "Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself. We thought markets worked. They're not working."

"Those who," she observes, "would like to see the world move through and past its present state face huge challenges, both theoretical and practical:"

Not least among these challenges is the need to parse out what succeeded and what failed in the past century's attempts to create egalitarian societies.

But Marxism is not equivalent to everything that has been performed in its name. Marx's work remains, to my mind, the most compelling framework for analyzing how the conflicting tendencies in present-day society contain the seeds of a more humane future.

Thanks, Karl. And, happy birthday.

This celebratory moment is, however, in direct contrast to the opprobrium due to one of the rules most inappropriately called a Marxist--Joseph Stalin. Daniel Taylor examines the fraud of Stalinism, reminding us that Stalinists "were often seen by most of the left and the workers' movement as the most conservative, right wing and counterrevolutionary current in the broad left:"

By the middle of the 1930s, the Russian Communist Party--which still claimed to be a revolutionary socialist party of the working class--was mostly made up of managers, army commanders and state bureaucrats. Stalin came to power as the leader of these managers and commanders. The Communist Party, in possession of state power, used its position to exploit and oppress the working class.

Under Stalin's regime, workers were denied the right to bargain collectively. They required state permission to move from city to city. Workers who missed one day of work could be dismissed. Being dismissed, they could be evicted from their home. Resigning their job without permission left workers barred from future employment: If they worked in a military industry, they could be sent to prison for eight years. Strikes were described as "counterrevolutionary sabotage," and strikers could face the death penalty.

Unsurprisingly, the Stalinist regime enforced gross inequality of the kind found in any capitalist society. Senior figures, like army marshals and high government officials, earned 100 times as much as the average worker (according to official Soviet figures).

Beneath the red flags and inspiring songs, society under Stalin became dominated by workplace managers and military commanders, with their needs enforced by police: a mirror of Western capitalism.

As Taylor points out, "the logic of Stalinism itself [...] was to collaborate with bosses against the working class in Russia and around the world:"

But these methods have nothing to do with Marx's conception of communism as an emancipated, classless society; they are the methods of exploiters and oppressors, which is why they went hand in hand with the right wing, class-collaborationist liberalism that the Stalinists would rather forget.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 7, 2018 2:26 PM.

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