Updated: Sep 14, 2019
I sometimes wonder whether Karl Marx could have ever imagined the impact he would have on modern society. In an attempt to explain his perceived reality and the plights of industrialization, he created a view history through class struggles and subsequent revolutions. To Marx, only two groups existed; the ruling class (The Haves) and the subordinate class (The Have Nots). Within this system, the ruling class exploits the subordinate class through production (capital, labor, etc.), and as this class becomes dominant, they create the tools for their won destruction, leading to a cycle of revolutions.
Stage 1: Primitive Communism--think quasi modernized troglodytes
This system represents the first domino to affect Marx’s cumulative history. Ruling classes, nor subordinate classes are established, yet the concept of labor facilitates the development of slavery (the next stage).
Stage 2: Slavery
This phase ushers in the initial division of people into defined classes. The slave owners use the labor provided by slaves to produce whatever they want.
Stage 3: Feudalism--Kings, Queens, and Court
Rather than free labor, the new dynamic builds a trade. Serfs maintain the land to receive the Lord or Aristocrat’s protection. However, the emergence of the merchant class and the Industrial Revolution served as the primary factors that transform Feudalism into Capitalism.
Stage 4: Capitalism--the big bad wolf, but a necessary evil in Marx’s timeline
The Industrial Revolution drastically altered the economic dynamics within society. Rather than land ownership serving as the sole means of demonstrating wealth, the ruling class becomes the Bourgeoisie that own factories and the machinery within them (capital). The subordinate class, the Proletariat, consisted of those who worked in the factories, vastly outnumbering the Bourgeoisie. Within Capitalism, the merchant class became a sort of middle class called the petty Bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the Proletariat Revolution, considered to be the revolution to end all revolutions, could not occur with a Proletariat operating autonomously. Vanguards, as Marx called them, were members of the Bourgeoisie who recognized a growing inequality and had the means to facilitate a revolution. These Vanguards would unite and lead the Proletariat to overthrow the Bourgeoisie.
Stage 5: Socialism--the last realistic stage and the most likely to turn autocratic
Technically, only one class exists after the revolution and ultimately eliminates the Bourgeoisie and inequality. However, while the Proletariat acts as the ruling class over nothing, the state seizes all capital to keep the society functioning.
Stage 6: Communism--when all other systems are fundamentally broken, eliminate everything
In this classification, states and their governments dissolve to allow the people to coexist without exploitation and specialization. The means of production continues as a loosely defined capital, owned by everyone and no one simultaneously. As the final stage within Marx’s aggregation of economics and political thought, pure communism represents the dissolution of a hierarchy and inequality. The common notation that communism, as a theoretical governing ideal, implies self governance to the extent that individuals are not constrained within an “exclusive sphere of activity,” promoting widespread tranquility but lacking practicality.
Marx lays out an academic interpretation of history, not a blueprint for future societies. Each of Marx’s proponents has attempted to warp his ideals into functioning governments. Lenin sought to create a Marx’s society with special consideration to industrial workers while Mao mobilized his massive peasant population to create a communist state. Each leader held true to their interpretation of Marx’s teachings, and each regime produced terrible consequences.
"That's not REAL Communism"
I cannot count the number of times someone has offered this as a common rebuttal to the failings of so many “communist” and “socialist” states. It seems that every time one has failed, the defenders of Marx pop their heads out of the woodwork to tell us how beautiful REAL communism would be, not the communist hybrids created in Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Venezuela, and so many other failing states. According to these apologists, no country in history has ever existed which is truly communist, they argue that most have simply been mistaking socialism for communism. This common misconception feeds a vicious cycle where the failings of communism are blamed on humanity’s lack of understanding of Marxist teachings ultimately leading to the birth of yet another new communist state attempting to implement the same failing practices of the past.
Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto should be viewed through the lens of studying history, not as a blueprint of the birth a new class structure. To credit the failings of a communist state to an individual leader completely dismisses the total and utter failings of the ideology. It is foolish to think that Mao did not truly believe in communist teachings while rebuilding China after the Long March, or that Lenin would have worked himself into a total state of exhaustion based on an adaptation of Marxism if he truly believed it would fail. Mao and Lenin were not attempting to create their own political principles and Stalin, who devoted his entire life to politics (even after multiple exiles to Siberia), dedicated himself to creating an ideology clearly grounded in basic Marxist teachings. These incredible men fought teeth and bone to build a society which they believed had been outlined by Marx. Tragically, these Marxist ideologies, left millions dead in prolonged class warfare and resulting starvation.
While many of Gen Z's budding communists consider their latest Instagram post or the new iPhone release, in comparison Lenin, Stalin and Mao endured incredible hardships for their cause. Lenin and Mao devoted their lives to their newly formed political parties which were barely relevant at conception and faced persecution where many faced death threats and exile upon joining their cause. If the perseverance of men such as Mao, Lenin, and Stalin could not create the communist utopian society envisioned by Marx, what makes a new generation of believers think they can? Despite the dedication and perseverance of Lenin, Mao, Stalin, and the other communist authoritarian leaders, some today insist that their current interpretation and hypothetical models for a new society of equality will succeed where these attempts failed. However, to dismiss the grave consequences that these historical models produced, which impacted millions of people, as a result of the incorrect application of Marxism leaves us in peril to repeat the failures of the past.