Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ten Worst and Best Ideas of Marxism

By Joe Sims
I've been thinking about the battle of ideas in the post-Bush era and the great opportunity it will present to the left, socialist and communist sections of the labor movement. These opportunities however may well pass us by unless, we shed some of the ideological baggage we've been carrying around, pretending some of it to somehow consist of “first principles” or foundation stones of political knowledge. Below are in my opinion, the top ten worst and best ideas of Marxism. As I wrote them, I came up with a lot more. Maybe this will be a series.


1. “Dictatorship of the proletariat.” Probably the worst phrase uttered by a political theorist ever. Who wants to live in a dictatorship? Even if I agreed with it conceptually, (which I don't), the Machiavellian in me has enough sense not to repeat it. Indefensible. And by the way, working-class “hegemony” (whatever the hell that means, sorry Gramsicans), aint much better.

2. “Single party state.” Related to but not necessarily derivative from the “proletarian dictatorship,” the one party state became and remains the model of “existing socialism” (whatever existing socialism means as the old model with one or two exceptions, no longer exists). Created to facilitate a forced march and manage popular consent by controlling the flow of information, it became a substitute for democratic decision-making, ideological struggle by convincing and consent instead of directive and decree. Internet has rendered completely useless. The single party state is doomed.

(Also equally odious was the codification of the “leading role of the party in the constitution of the former “socialist” eastern Europe and USSR.)

3.”Developed socialism” The above shows that working-class humanity was about 5000 light years away from even approaching a developed socialist society, especially those in the “Third World” which led them to attempt a hybrid mixed duck-billed-platypus economy described directly below.

4. “Socialist Market Economy” At best utterly confusing to most and a euphemism for capitalism at worst causing the term “capitalism” to almost disappear from the socialist/capitalist lexicon, replaced by the “market.” It has created a huge ideological fog leaving many to scratch their hands and wonder what were we fighting for anyway? Sweden is not my model!

5. “Listing defense of Soviet Union under the 21 points for joining the Comitern.” The idea of “Defending Socialism” by detachments outside of those countries attempting to build it led to some of the biggest quagmires and mistakes of the 20th century. Still with us in many forms including the defense of the use of death penalty in by some ruling parties for “economic crimes” a practice not even followed in countries practicing Sharia law, who cut off your hand.

6. “Art is a hammer with which to shape reality.” First articulated by Brecht, primitive and almost obscene. Oh when will we learn to appreciate and engage something so gentle and so moving and so profound as our creative selves.

7. “Marxism, Marxism-Leninism.” Very bad idea to name a scientific world-view after individuals. Way too subjective and besides too many bad stories and nightmares associated with it. And, not very working-class sounding: too many syllables and hyphens. Replace it with “scientific socialism” or the “socialist and communist idea.”

8. “Organic intellectual.” Sorry Gramsci people. Great idea, but too much granola.

9. “Negation of Negation.” Most people have no idea what the heck that means, in dire need of reformulation, so people can at least understand it.

10. “Religion is the opium of the people.” Probably the second stupidest phrase ever uttered by a political theorist. Here again indefensible, even if it was taken out of context. Truly, God is not our enemy: capitalism is.


1. “From each according to ability, to each according to need.” At once a concept of contribution and distribution, it sums up a moment perhaps beyond “fairness” and “equality” (which is its pre-condition) and toward a new civilization. Utopian as all hell, but I love it.

2. “The history of all society is the history of class struggle.” The opening lines of the Manifesto gripped and grabbed me as teenager and retain all their truth and force.

3. “Labor theory of value.” “Value” arises from different forms – a chief contributor is the worker on the factory floor. It was refreshing to hear a auto worker in Mic hagen say precisely that on NPR this weekend. To paraphrase, “We do all the work, and they take all the profits.” Exactly.

4. “Labor in the white skin cannot be free while labor in the black is branded.” This phrase from Marx's capital captures the dynamic interplay of class and race and remains a foundation stone of the socialist and communist idea.

5. “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.” Here again, Marx studying the Irish question in relationship to problems in the labor movement in England sets forth the guiding principle of the working-class movement in relation to democratic struggles, calling on labor to place the struggle for democracy at the forefront of its agenda.

6. “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” This idea, largely attributed to Lenin, comes rather from Plekanov. stresses the signal importance of theoretical work, an idea that often seems lost to the non-ideological as well as “ideological” US left.

7. “The educators must be educated.” You can say that again.

8. “The point is to change reality.” A daring and to some dangerous idea. But change it to what? The 19th century idea, much repeated by Marx and Engels of “mastering nature” must give way to a new concept.

9. “An once of action is worth more than a ton of theory.” Engels here seems to diminish theory, however, he actually placed it on equal par with the economic and political struggle. It speaks to the vital, initiating role of the “advanced detachment” of the labor movement, a value that too often seems to get lost.

10. “I am not a Marxist.” This phrase was uttered once by Marx and I read recently also by Engels in relation to some narrow statement by some would be adherent. . However, the latter is unconfirmed. The sentiment, however, is understood, as the reader saw at the top of this list.

Ok folks, let me know what you think. Plenty of space below: