Looking Back at Marxist Dreamland

Karl Marx was not such a naive man, as some would be forgiven to think, given the current state of his abused philosophy. Sure, he thought competition was overrated, that capitalism was crude and inhumane, but his visions of how a society should operate were surreal. And not just surreal but so – how do I put this – Christian-like. Imagine a world without class, where no one is richer or poorer. Better yet, imagine a world where everyone is rich, where resources are abundant, where families and societies live in complete harmony. There will be no such thing as envy or disputes because everyone will be equal and no one will be different – like heaven on earth.

Marx’s time was very ripe for a political evaluation of sorts. The Industrial Revolution was taking place and many felt the gap between the rich and the poor was getting bigger and bigger. Workers felt disgruntled and maligned, that they did not have a voice or a place in their societies. Just as the current Digital Age is cooking up a wave of “crude nationalism” (soon-to-be-former President Barack Obama’s words) the 19th Century Industrial Revolution unleashed communism.

But not really! It unleashed a type of communism, namely Marxism-Leninism. Communism, in principle, in theory, was a fantastic, beautiful and grand idea to sell to a beaten-up, undignified and ignored factory worker somewhere in Russia. Vladimir Lenin understood this, he was, like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, a populist of his time, who knew and said just what people wanted to hear. To be perfectly frank, the prospect of a communist Russia, given the historical and psychological antecedents, was a no-brainer.

Marxism-Leninism is generally accepted as Marx’s theories “amended and practiced by Lenin.” Now this description completely distorts the real essence of the term. Lenin was an opportunist and communism presented the opportunity. Marxism-Leninism merely refers to that time in history when an outsider used a major and radical idea to hold power. Lenin then flexed, disfigured and delegitimized the entire socialist theory as he saw fit with his authoritarian ambitions. The entire purpose of both capitalism and communism is the well-being of society. What the two competing political systems disagree on is how to get there. Both systems, interestingly, do not believe that a government has much to do with getting us to this point. In communism, especially, the end result, in theory at least, is a utopia without any government.

Now, this significant detail in Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ famous pamphlet, “The Communist Manifesto,” where the ideas and principles of communism were put forward, does not tally well with what the 20th century has thought us about communism. Communism, as we understand it, has become synonymous with authoritarianism, bad governance, and bureaucracy. The very mention of the word causes discomfort and resentment. Here in Ethiopia, the most clearly authoritative, brutal and least effective government happens to be the only communist government the country has ever known, the Dergue regime.

Marx, a German who penned his famous political theory in Brussels, died while Russia was still being ruled by the Tsars, and Lenin was still 13. The German political insurrectionist always knew and said that an armed revolution was necessary for communism to succeed capitalism. But Marx was also very realistic about how the world worked, about how revolutions could easily lose their way and turn into something completely unexpected. He might have anticipated that people like Lenin would exploit communism.

Does it sound like I am trying to defend communism, a sworn enemy of individualism?

The system of political governance has many faults, chief among them being its susceptibility to misuse of power. In capitalism, everyone is the beholder of their own assets, but in communism, it is entailed that someone has to gather everyone’s profits and then redistribute it equally. The latter would never work in a country where there is such a stark wealth gap, but it just might make sense in a country where the middle class is abundant. The only catch is in finding that “someone” to administer society’s wealth without bureaucracy, without cronyism.

Communism has never been given a fair shot. When Lenin died, his successor, Joseph Stalin, built a personality cult around the communist leader and ensured that the political thought would haunt the 20th Century. The Soviet Union, launched by Stalin – which financed other socialist governments around the world (including that of the Dergue) – only succeeded in grossing out the world with the whole political concept.

Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China – who once said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” – followed a slightly different type of communism than the one that was peddled by the Marxist-Leninists. But he too had very little regard for the actual well-being of society.
The fact that communism never worked should not surprise anyone. It is not like anyone ever took it seriously, least of all the leaders (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Mengistu) who said they did. That is why it failed. All the nations today, who purport to be communist nations, with the stark exception of North Korea, are very heavily engaged in the free market economy. It is sad in a way, because capitalism needs the challenge and the competition, to better itself. But communism will live on, maybe not as a living-breathing political system, but in the history books (or e-books), waiting to be resurrected by fairer governments.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a film critic whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at christian.tesfaye@yahoo.com

Published on Jan 17,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 872]



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