Marxism should not be an excuse for authoritarian states
The rise and fall of Soviet bloc in 20th century, and the emerging authoritarian one-party rules in some Asian countries in early 21st century are usually linked to Marxist idea of “the dictatorship of proletariat.” As China claims to follow Marxism and Maoist thoughts, Vietnam claims to follow Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh thoughts, that idea provides legitimacy for their one-party dictatorship. Yet the proposition that Marx actually promoted dictatorship of proletariat through centralization of power is a myth.
Firstly, Marx is at best a political economist and political thinker, rather than a politician or governance specialist who designed a concrete frame for the structure of communist society. He never himself developed a plan which would lead the human race to communism and how the world would be governed by then, except the vague idea of revolution. He is a pure “mind fighter,” in the sense that he considered the winning of ideas is more important than anything else. Thus, claiming Marx as the source of their authoritarian legitimacy is baseless and an insult to his ideas.
Secondly, even if the current so-called communist states borrow vague ideas of Marxism on state, they might interpret Marx wrongly. In contrast to the centralization of power in China and Vietnam which all powers are on the hand of the Politburos, Marx actually preferred a decentralization of power. “Without parties, there is no development. Without division there is no progress.” This quotation is not from a Chinese or Vietnamese dissent, but from Marx himself.
His preference of decentralization could be seen in his agreement with Paris Commune policy applied in their short-live revolution in 1871.
Paris commune had an idealist flat power division in which the smallest unit can have the impact to the largest (say, the commune and the government). Whereas, China and Vietnam, perhaps the best survivals of Marxist-claimed states, have a pyramid-style power division in which the Party holds the supreme power.
This profound difference between Marxian ideas and the current authoritarian states can be seen in their opposite ways of treating press. For Marx, press freedom is a must of a society, and is a “true law because it is the positive existence of freedom.” Press as a mouthpiece of the government is therefore a product of authoritarian states, not Marx himself.
Marx, as a great dissent of the Prussian state, also disregarded any state which does not give its citizens liberty. He considered states as “the great organism in which juridical, moral, and political liberties must be realized and in which citizens, by obeying the laws of the state, only obey the laws of his own reason: human reason.”As such, a Marxian state should give their citizens as much freedom as possible, not to limit it to the least as we can see in claimed communist countries nowadays.
There is nothing as Communist kings
As argued in the previous part of this essay, Marxism society requires purely good people, which is against all the Bourgeois idea of human nature as being greedy and easy to corrupt. However, to be purely good human nature, human must develop to the point where there is no need to be greedy (because of the fulfilment of material need).
Yet absolutely we have not been there yet. We are still living in a world where hundreds of million people are starving, and scarcity of resources seems an endless situation. Human is still greedy and must be greedy to survive. Party leaders, as products of current social circumstances, must be as greedy and easy to corrupt as any other in the society, according to Marxist materialism.
Then with the supreme power, the Party leaders would be able to become kings of their countries, rather than purely governing officials as wished by Marx in his ideal communist society. They actually are. Since if you have a chance to be a king, why not choosing to do so?
That explains why North Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam have so many princelings: those who are sons and daughters of the leaders would be the future leaders. If Marx lived up until today, he might call those systems as feudalism instead of communism.
Last but not least, Marxism requires the least government rather than biggest government. As for Marx, communism can only be reached when there is no political struggle, and state will be then reduced to merely an administrative machine. At this point, ironically, Marxism can agree a little bit with neo-liberalism. What we can see in the so-called communist states nowadays is in fact less Marxist than even the “bourgeois” states. Recently, Xi Jinping with his new “Chinese Dream” policy has implied the end of Marxist legitimacy in Chinese state. That is a smart move, since it is not wise to base your legitimacy on something does not actually have it.
Any room for a “great leap forward” from non-capitalist to communist society?
Marx’s answer is clear: NO.
History development for Marxism should be step by step: an underdeveloped countries cannot become a Communist state just as a child cannot run before he can stand on his own. Marx respected the law of gradual evolution, as he respected the work of Darwin in the evolution of species.
This stance was evident in his doubt in the success of a possible Russian revolution since the country had never experienced capitalism and hence did not have strong material foundation enough to build a socialist society. Her working class was also small, and a great deal of possible revolutionaries was peasants, who had just been freed from serfdom in 1861.
Class-consciousness would thus be hard to believe. The intellectual capacity to build a communist state in Russia was also questioned. Even Tsarist censors said about Marx’s Russian version of “Das Kapital” that it is “too difficult and hardly comprehensible, so “few would read it and still fewer understand it.”
Marx was right. The violent revolution in Russia was successful to overthrow the Tsarist government, but unable to sustain its governance to serve the best of their people. The collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 was something predictable.
“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditions thereby.” His famous quotation removed any possible implication for a “great leap forward” in any society.
When the society is not ready for communism, but then forced to do so, it will lead to a corrupt, Orwellian state rather than a good one. The demise of Stalinist state, Khmer Rouge State, and Maoist state are the most prominent examples. The revivals of China and Vietnam in the past 30 years are thanked to their sway into capitalism, which both countries had never experienced before being a one-party state, rather than anything could be claimed as “Marxism.”
Based on his historical materialism, perhaps the current developed countries might even reach the communist state much quicker than the claimed Marxist states like China and Vietnam.