Posts Tagged ‘Marxism’

The Life and Death of Lenin

August 24, 2015

I am a fan of Isaac Asimov‘s science fiction stories, particularly of his Foundation series. In this series of books, a mathematician named Hari Seldon invents a way to predict the future through the mathematics of probability, which he calls Psychohistory.  It is not possible to predict the future actions of an individual person or even small groups of people. Psychohistory only works which large populations, entire worlds and nations. By using psychohistory Seldon learns  that the Galactic Empire, which has existed for thousands of years, is falling and the galaxy will enter into a dark age lasting for many millennia if nothing is done. It is too late to avert the fall of the Empire, but Seldon hopes to shorten the interregnum between the First and Second Galactic Empires to merely a thousand years by setting up two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy that will preserve the scientific knowledge that would otherwise be lost and to lead the way to the reunification of the galaxy.

Could there really be such a method of calculating the future as Isaac Asimov’s psychohistory? In order for something like that to work, history would have to be determined by great economic and social forces and the choices of individuals, even great generals and kings, would have to be inconsequential. Carlyle’s Great Man Theory would have to give way to Spencer’s theory that even great men are mere products of their environment.

For my part, I do not believe that psychohistory could really be possible. I think that great men, and women, really do alter the course of history. There are just so many ways in which history could have turned out very differently, if the personalities of the persons involved has been different. Imagine the American Revolution without George Washington or Germany after the First World War without a Hitler. Then too, there ware the completely unpredictable workings of nature. Climate change has had a greater effect on the rise and fall of empires than is generally recognized. Diseases like the Black Death can appear due to chance mutations of a virus or bacteria and kill half the population of a continent with little warning.

I could give many examples, but the one that I would like to consider is the life and death of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the founder of the Bolshevik Party and the first leader of the USSR. Before the Russian Revolutions of 1917, there were many socialist factions seeking reform or revolution in Russia, some Marxist, some not. Among all these parties, Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks were the most radically Marxist and the most given to violence and terrorism. Lenin and his lieutenants had no use for the kind of parliamentary reforms that more moderate groups wanted to bring to Russia, nor did he care for reforms to improve the conditions of the masses. Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted revolution.When the Czar was overthrown in February, 1917 and a republican Provisional  Government set up, the Bolsheviks played almost no role in the great affairs. Lenin was still in exile and wanted his party to have no part in bourgeoisie elections. The party would seize power in a Communist revolution.

It is important to understand that this decision to seize power was entirely Lenin’s. None of the other leading Bolsheviks thought it was a good idea and properly speaking, as good Marxists, the Bolsheviks ought not to have led a revolution at all. Marx has very definite ideas on how Communism was supposed to come about. He believed that every society moved through stages, from the primitive socialism of savages to the great slave states of the ancient world, to feudalism,  capitalism, socialism, and finally communism. Since Russia was still emerging from feudalism into capitalism, Lenin ought to have waited until capitalism was fully developed in Russia before leading the revolution. Lenin, however, realized that the Bolsheviks would never have a better chance for power than while the Russian government and economy were in a state of collapse.



Lenin’s rule as the first leader of the Soviet Union was a disaster for the Russian people. All of the totalitarian aspects of the communist regime that are usually attributed to Joseph Stalin’s tyranny had their beginnings with Lenin. Lenin was the one who setup the Checka, the secret police and it was Lenin who established the Gulags and the use of terror to subdue the population. Yet, despotic as Lenin was, Stalin was far worse and it was doubly unfortunate for the Russian people that Lenin’s premature death in 1924 led to the assumption of power by Stalin.


In the year before his death, Lenin was increasingly uneasy over events in the Soviet Union. The great revolution did not seem to be leading to a communist utopia but had exchanged the tyranny of the Czar with the tyranny of the commissar. Lenin began to consider ways of making the Soviet state more representative of the workers it purported to serve. Lenin was also becoming aware that Stalin, while a good man to have around in a revolution, was wholly unsuited to wielding power after the revolution. Lenin decided that Stalin had to be relieved of his powerful position of Party General Secretary. If Lenin had lived a normal lifespan, it is likely that he would have succeeded in unseating Stalin.  It is less likely that he would have made the Soviet regime in any sense democratic. Lenin’s own autocratic personality prevented him from ever really seeing that the cause of the increasingly oppressive regime was his own reluctance to allow anyone outside the Communist Party from gaining any real independence from the rule of the Party. Still, if Lenin had not died, the rule of the Communist Party, while still despotic, would not have reached the insane level of repression as it did under Stalin. The history of the twentieth century might have been very different, depending on whether Lenin lived or died.

Lenin was only 53 when he died following a series of strokes over the previous year which progressively weakened him. After his death, an autopsy showed that he had advanced arteriosclerosis in his brain with some blood vessels completely calcified. The arteriosclerosis was far worse than might be expected in a man of Lenin’s age, especially as he had none of the risk factors that might be associated with the disease. Lenin did not smoke, was moderate in his diet, and exercised regularly. He was under a considerable amount of stress as leader of a nation in a civil war and which had to be rebuilt almost from the ground up. Still, such an advanced case of arteriosclerosis at Lenin’s age is unusual, particularly considering that the worst buildup of plaque was in the blood vessels of his brain. The blood vessels in the rest of Lenin’s body were no more afflicted by the disease than might be expected by a man of his age and habits. Something strange was going on.

Recently, researchers have discovered that a mutation in a single gene can cause a selective buildup of the plaque that causes arteriosclerosis in the legs. Could Lenin have suffered from a similar genetic disorder that caused such a buildup in the brain? Lenin’s father also suffered from cardiovascular disease, dying of heart disease at the age of 54. While it is not yet confirmed that Lenin himself suffered from a genetic defect that specifically targeted the blood vessels of the brain, it is clear that there was some sort of hereditary predisposition for cardiovascular disease.

Getting back to psychohistory, I do not see how any method of predicting the future could account for the life and death of Lenin. It would not be difficult to predict the fall of the Czar many years before it happened. It may not have been too difficult to predict that the most radical faction of the revolutionaries seeking the overthrow of the Czar would end up in control. Other revolutions have seen similar outcomes. But how could anyone predict that a small splinter faction would end up seizing power in a coup? Remember that Lenin was the only Bolshevik who thought such a coup had any chance of success. If Lenin had still been in exile, the October Revolution wouldn’t have happened and either some other Marxist faction would have gained power, or the Provisional Government would have had time to get things settled down enough to establish a more permanent government. Even if it were possible to account for the rise of the Bolsheviks, how could anyone predict in advance that their leader suffered from a genetic defect that would kill him prematurely and pave the way for a psychopath like Stalin to gain power?

I think that it is clear that it is individuals who make history, either by the decisions of the great ones, or the actions of millions of lesser people. The social and economic forces that historians like Spencer believe that drive the course of history are nothing more than the trillions of actions made by billions of people over time with considerable influence brought on by unpredictable natural events. Psychohistory will probably have to stay in the realm of fiction.


The Only Good Marxist

December 17, 2013

I have not weighed in on Pope Francis’s recent remarks on economics and capitalism in part because I was afraid that I might be misunderstanding his comments in context and also in part because, not being a Roman Catholic, I do not feel obliged to follow his lead on any subject, nor am I under any obligation to defend him. I do take some exception to some things the pope said when clarifying his positions.

Pope Francis, who made headlines in recent weeks by lambasting ‘trickle down” economic theories as unfair to the poor, is shrugging off criticism from political conservatives who dubbed him a Marxist.

“The Marxist ideology is wrong,” Francis told the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa for a story released this weekend. “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

Marxism is an ideology that is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people throughout the world. It has condemned billions to lives of poverty, fear and oppression. Every country that has adopted a politics based on Marxist principles has become a vile tyranny with no regard for the lives of its citizens and the greatest persecutors of religion in history. The Marxist ideology is more than simply wrong. It is evil.

Those who call themselves Marxists are associating themselves with the most ruthless and evil tyrannies in the history of the world. To say that that there are Marxists that are good people is the same as saying that Nazi ideology is wrong but there were many good Nazis. There were good people who were Nazis, just as there have been many good people who have been Marxists, but their support of an evil, murderous ideology outweighs whatever good they may have done. They are not, then good people.

It Takes a Village

July 18, 2012

to build a business. That seems to be what Barack Obama thinks. Actually, the Republicans are making a little more out of his statement than they really should. He didn’t precisely say, “you didn’t build your business”. What he did say is somewhat intriguing. Here is part of President Obama’s statement which puts his remarks in a fuller context.

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

In an important sense, President Obama is right. No great enterprise is ever accomplished by one person working entirely by himself. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but he hardly built his laboratory all by himself. He did not think up the idea all by himself but he built on the work of others who had worked before him. Albert Einstein did not just write e=mc² on a chalkboard one day. He built on the work that physicists had been doing for the past decade. No one does anything truly by themselves.

And yet, Obama is wrong too, and the way that he is wrong perhaps says something about the way he views the world. We justly honor people like Edison and Einstein because although they built on the work of others, they put that work together in new ways to create something altogether new and wonderful. Without such innovators, the work of others that they used would not have been used to its full potential.

A business person, entrepeneur, or capitalist also makes use of the work of others, just as Obama has said. What he did not say is that the capitalist makes use of the existing work, or investments, or factors of production, such as labor, land,  and capital to use economics jargon to make something new and wonderful, just as the inventor or scientist does. In fact, the capitalist, by bringing together the labor, capital and resources to make a business is the one indispensible person in making any sort of progress. Without the capitalist, there are no factories, no trade, no goods and services being exchanged for the good of everyone.

This understanding of capitalists seems to be directly opposite Marx’s understanding. If I understand him correctly, he believed that capitalists were a sort of parasite that leached off what the workers produced. Instead of profit being the just reward of the ones who took the risks and put everything together, he believed that it was what was stolen from those who did all the real work. I do not wish to speculate too much on the President’s inner thoughts, but I strongly suspect that this his close to his understanding of things as well.

Now, note, I am not saying that Obama is a Communist or a Marxist. I am not sure that he would identify himself as a Marxist in any sort of formal sense. Nevertheless, such ideas were and are very much a part of the academic environment in which he lived before turning to politics. With his background, it would be surprising if Obama did not fail to appreciate fully the importance of private enterprise.

He is wrong in another sense too. Firstly, I am not sure he is aware of the fact that government has no actual resources of its own. Everything he wants to give credit to the government for accomplishing, was ultimately paid for with taxes from the private sector. Sometimes, it is a good idea to take money for the common good, roads and armies come to mind as examples. Other times it is a terrible idea, think Solyndra, or stimulus packages.

Secondly, look closely at his statement. Notice that he seems to believe that collective action is only possible through the state. Consider his example of fire fighting. I can imaging fighting fires without a formal government organization. What about a volunteer fire company? How about a private fire fighting service that the people in a town pay a fee for? These examples may not work very well, but I want to illustrate that it is possible for people to work together without the federal government running things. It is possible to help the disadvantaged through private charities. Businesses are usually very good examples of people working together voluntarily.

It is this particular blind spot that I think Obama’s statement really reveals. This idea that nothing should be done unless government, preferably at the highest levels, is leading the way. I think that Obama simply does not see the importance of the voluntary associations that Alexis de Tocqueville saw as so essential to American success, and so misunderstands the factors that have made America what it is. This is the real problem with this president.

I am glad to see that I am not the only one who has described Obama’s economic views as essentially Marxist.

The Dalai Lama

June 19, 2011

I’ve never been much of an admirer of the Dalai Lama. This is not because he is the leader of a major sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but because I have always wondered what kind of ruler of Tibet he would have been if he were not in exile. Although I cannot condone the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, I don’t imagine that the theocracy of the Dalai Lamas was exactly a paradise either. Tibet was a backward,  feudal country. I doubt very much of the Dalai Lama would have been a force for democracy or reform.

It would seem that his holiness is an admirer of Marxism. It might seem strange that he would have anything good to say about the ideology of the country that drove him into exile but he seems to feel that Marxism has moral ethics while capitalism is only about profits.

I will quote some of the comments of Mark Stuertz from whom I got this story.

So how can the Dalai Lama possibly square his pleas for nonviolence toward “all sentient beings” with Marxism? His answer: Marxism has moral ethics, as opposed to capitalism, which is all about profits.

Let’s chew on that for a moment. Virtually every socio-political movement has some noble ambition — some set of ethics — that can be teased from its viscera. The Nazi Party platform, for example, contains calls for equal rights, profit-sharing, national health care, pensions, education access, employment opportunities, and the rights of citizens to select political leaders and make laws.

By implication, isn’t the Dalai Lama saying these are sufficient grounds to legitimize, exonerate — even embrace — Nazism? And if not, why not?

It’s one thing to promote cooperation and egalitarianism. It’s quite another to publicly endorse a specific ideology that espouses such goals but consistently delivers a dramatically different outcome. According to The Black Book of Communism, Marxist regimes over the 20th century systematically slaughtered between 85 and 100 million people. Millions more were terrorized, tortured, and enslaved. And these atrocities were not breaches of practical Marxist orthodoxy — they were critical elements of Marxist statecraft. Terror tactics and atrocities, The Black Book’s authors point out, are found in every regime claiming to be Marxist in origin.

The Marxist-Communist record is “the most colossal case of political carnage in history.” It represents the triumph of inhumanity over compassion on an unprecedented scale. How can this Nobel Peace Prize winner embrace a political ideology in theory without any consideration of its effects in practice? Is this mindful?

Buddhism, perhaps more than any of the other major religions, places special emphasis on compassion. It is incumbent upon the Buddhist to strive for mindfulness and compassion in all circumstances. Essential to this striving is the cultivation of an awareness of how ego aggressively disrupts mindfulness and compassion while denying the impermanence of existence. These aggressive disruptions cause suffering.

There is perhaps no other realm that engorges, fattens, and unleashes the aggressiveness of ego and its handmaiden, suffering, quite like the political realm. Yet the Dalai Lama doesn’t seem to consider this. He makes no mention of Marxism’s glaring internal contradictions. He glosses over how it fails to consider humanity as it is: beset with the confusion and ignorance of ego. He disregards the critical component Marxism requires to function successfully: a mythical human, one free of self-interest.

That’s why, for all of its seductive allure — its appeal to ego — Marxism has proved impossible to peacefully implement.

He has more to say and his article is worth reading. I will just add that it is the big ideas, Marxism, socialism, Fascism, etc that have caused so much suffering in the world. That is, the idea that all of society must conform to an ideology that will, of course, make everything perfect for everyone, if only everyone does as they are told. Capitalism may indeed be all about profits, and greed, and so on, but it is also about leaving people alone to make their own lives as they see fit. What people like the Dalai Lama will never see is that that is the morally superior system.

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