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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

On Why Marxism has been Refuted

Studies in Irrationality: Marxism – Fake Nous

"I’ve been known to cite Marxism as an example of an irrational political belief. This is controversial in intellectual circles (indeed, some will probably be outraged by this post), but that doesn’t prevent it from being clearly true; it just means that certain forms of irrationality are popular in intellectual circles. In fact, I regard Marxism as the paradigm of an irrational political belief; if it’s not irrational, nothing is. The theory has been as soundly refuted as a social theory can be. Sometimes, people ask me to explain why I say this.

Let me start with why I say it’s been soundly refuted.

a. Theoretical developments: Shortly after Marx wrote, his underlying economic theory was rejected by essentially the entire field and superseded by a better theory. Virtually no one who studies the subject (outside of oppressive Marxist regimes) believes the labor theory of value anymore. Without the labor theory of value, there’s no theory of surplus value, no theory of exploitation, and thus the central critique of capitalism fails. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read any standard text on price theory. If you learn modern price theory, you are going to agree with it, and you are going to reject the labor theory as well. It’s that clear.

b. Historical developments: Marxism was tried many times. It was tried in many countries with different cultures, on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. By different people, with different variations on the theory, at different times. Every time it went horribly wrong. Not just once or twice, and not just slightly wrong. In the best cases, it resulted in severe poverty and abuse of power. In the worst, it resulted in the greatest human atrocities in history. In total, between 100 and 150 million people were killed by their own, Marxist governments in the twentieth century. To be a Marxist, as far as I understand what that means, is to believe that, knowing all this, we should try again.

c. Predictability: In case you are tempted to say that Marx couldn’t have anticipated this: yes, he could. It’s hardly difficult to figure out that giving total power to the state might cause some problems – it’s not as if the history of government had been completely clean up til the 20th century, when suddenly, for the first time in history, people with power started to abuse it. Nor is this just some right-wing ideological point. In witness: Mikhail Bakunin was a socialist anarchist who was a contemporary of Marx. Very far to the left. He warned Marx about what was going to happen if Marxists took power – that the dictatorship of the proletariat would become the new class of exploiters and oppressors. This is the most obvious objection that should occur to anyone familiar with human beings, within a minute of hearing about Marx’s views.

Marx dismissed Bakunin’s warnings with a series of personal insults and dogmatic declarations. Actual quotations from Marx’s response to Bakunin: “Schoolboy drivel!” “The ass! This is democratic nonsense, political windbaggery!” (The Marx-Engels Reader, 543-5) But what Bakunin predicted is essentially exactly what happened. I give this example to illustrate that even an extreme leftist could see the biggest problem, even back in the 19th century.

The second most obvious objection to communism is that people are not going to selflessly work for the good of society. That was hardly a new, unanticipatable discovery of the twentieth century. That, again, should be obvious to anyone familiar with human beings, if that person devotes any effort to thinking about what could go wrong. And if a person wants to radically remake society but does not devote any effort to thinking about what could go wrong, that person is irrational.

Bertrand Russell — himself a democratic socialist — had this to say of Marx: “My objections to Marx are of two sorts: one, that he was muddle-headed; and the other, that his thinking was almost entirely inspired by hatred.” ("Why I am Not a Communist" by Betrand Russell) Russell visited Russia in 1920, just a few years after the Bolsheviks took over. Even at that early stage, he concluded that the experiment in communism was a failure. I give this example to illustrate, again, that one didn’t have to be a right-winger to see the problems with Marxism long ago.

Now if someone today, after all that we’ve seen, says, “We should give Marxism another try,” I think that is not a possible rational response to the evidence. A rational person cannot think that.

Yet you can actually run into Marxists in the world I inhabit (the academic world), and they generally seem like normal people, even nice people, besides intelligent and educated – except for their being Marxists. I don’t know what is going on, except that politics deactivates people’s reasoning capacities.


Edit: I forgot to mention also: Pretty much every significant, testable prediction made by Marx turned out to be the exact opposite of what happened. E.g., the middle class was supposed to shrink and disappear, the lower class expand, everyone get poorer, and then capitalism would collapse due to its "contradictions". Instead, the middle class expanded, the lower class shrank, everyone got richer, capitalism expanded, and communism collapsed."
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