Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Karl Marx Explicitly Condoned Murder in Communism's Name

Those Who Presume That Marx and Engels Were Too Naïve to Anticipate Communism's Atrocities Should Bother to Read Them in Their Own Words

Stuart K. Hayashi

Statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (left to right, respectively) in Berlin;
source: Wikimedia Commons.

On July 22, 2017, Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute tweeted out an op-ed by British politician Daniel Hannan concerning a public monument in Manchester, England, that is dedicated to Friedrich Engels, the primary financial patron to Karl Marx and the co-author of The Communist Manifesto with him.  The monument is to celebrate Engels's having lived in Manchester on account of his having managed a factory there that his father owned.  Hannan argues that, given that over one hundred million people were murdered in the name of the ideology that Engels promoted, the erection of a monument to him is comparable to setting up a statue to commend Adolf Hitler.   Dr. Brook agrees with Hannan.

Predictably, Dr. Brook received flack over this.  One man tweeted to Dr. Brook exactly the sort of retort one would expect: Hannan and Dr. Brook are "off base" in "comparing Engels to Hitler," as Engels was merely an "author and (awful) economist," whereas Hitler was a "politician and mass murderer." Indeed, many people frequently try to let Marx and Engels off the hook by saying that the murders committed in the name of communism were committed only by such government officials as Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Kim Il-Sung, whereas Marx and Engels were merely theorists who never got their hands dirty.

 It is quite convenient that the same people who insist that Marx and Engels cannot be properly blamed for communist dictators' actions usually frequent the same intellectual circles that try to blame Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner for inspiring eugenics and therefore ultimately inspiring the Nazi movement, when, as I have written, eugenics and Naziism come from a philosophic tradition that is independent of, and even hostile toward, Spencer's and Sumner's free-market evolutionism. (Had Spencer and Sumner never been born, eugenics and Nazism still would have emerged as philosophic traditions, as they sprung from the statist collectivist preachings of such figures as Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, Georges de LaPouge, and Houston Chamberlain; the laissez-faire liberal republicanism that Spencer and Sumner advocated was the exact opposite of that mindset.)

With respect to the contention that a pro-statism, anti-reason philosopher's hands are clean if he never committed any violence himself, Dr. Brook addressed that point in his Living Objectivism podcast on July 24, 2017. As Leonard Peikoff did decades earlier in his book The Ominous Parallels, Dr. Brook argued that even if a philosopher did not enact any violence personally, he should still be considered morally culpable if he laid the philosophic foundations for all of the rationalizations that were given for totalitarianism throughout the twentieth century. Although Drs. Brook and Peikoff did not bring up Houston Chamberlain specifically, it is proper to judge Chamberlain as culpable for the atrocities performed in the name of eugenics, as Chamberlain devised myriad rationalizations for racism and anti-Semitism, giving a veneer of respectability to such violence. Similar logic should be applied to Marx and Engels.

I want to broach a matter that is different but related. I agree with Dr. Brook that even if Marx and Engels never anticipated the atrocities that their writings would inspire, justice would require judging them as accessories contributing to such evil. However, the history behind communism is much worse than that. The hundreds or thousands of people -- usually university students -- who confidently proclaim that Marx and Engels were too naïve to have predicted the violent consequences of their advocacy are people who demonstrate their own ignorance when they issue such a proclamation.  Such people are just making assumptions.  The more you read Marx's and Engels's writings, the more you find that they were not naïve on this matter at all.  To the contrary, Marx and Engels both wrote explicitly that they expected that large numbers of people would be slaughtered in the process of bringing about a communist revolution.  Moreover, Marx and Engels condoned it completely.

Marx pronounced that every form of government other than communism -- including that of a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State -- is inherently some violent imposition initiating the use of force upon the masses. Therefore, as far as Marx was concerned, any communist overthrow that involves communists killing people is simply morally justified self-defense on the communists' part. Hence, in writing about wars in Europe, Marx remarked on November 6, 1848, "...there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror." By revolutionary terror , Marx meant killing hundreds or thousands of people. (I learned from Stephen Hicks of Marx saying this.)

Marx continued to urge such brutality in the three decades that followed. In January of 1879, the Chicago Tribune asked Marx whether "to carry out the principles of socialism do its believers advocate assassination and bloodshed?" To that, Marx replied unashamedly, "“No great movement, has ever been inaugurated Without Bloodshed" (Marx evidently could not conceive of a rebellion such as Mohandas Gandhi's).

Likewise, the comparison of Engels to Hitler is apt for more reasons than probably even Daniel Hannan realizes: Engels stated his hope that when militaries finally ushered in a new epoch of communism, they would exterminate whole races of people.  Specifically, Engels hoped all the Slavs would be massacred. Hence, in 1849 he cheered that

the Austrian Germans and Magyars will be set free and wreak a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names. 
The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.

Note that Engels is not merely asking for the deposing or surrender of a particular State; he is hoping that everyone of a particular race, whom that State represents, shall be on the receiving end of "bloody revenge." And, tellingly, he wants "Germans" to be the ones wreaking that "bloody revenge" on "reactionary peoples" -- all members of an ethnic group -- whom he deems "barbarians."

This reminds me of some people who like to say, "The Soviet Union only went wrong because that selfish scoundrel Josef Stalin succeeded Vladimir Lenin as the head of state.  If only Leon Trotsky took over from Lenin instead, everything would have gone better."  That talking point presumes that somehow Trotsky was benign.  In reality, Trotsky was Lenin's right hand in committing mass executions in the Ukraine.  Trotsky ordered that any communist caught deserting the Red Army be slain.  He also demanded capital punishment for any Soviet citizen who was truant from work.  Trotsky's bloodthirstiness is chronicled in the books A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes and Trotsky:  The Eternal Revolutionary by Dmitri Volkogonov.

After having lost his power struggle against Stalin, Trotsky pointed out that Stalin's denial of jobs to him and other purge victims was an attempt on Stalin's part to use the apparatus of the State to starve them to death:  "In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat." That is true, but Trotsky conveniently tries to elude responsibility for the fact that he was an accessory with Lenin and Stalin in imposing those circumstances on everyone in Russia in the first place. To find the man who gave Stalin such a loathsome weapon, all Trotsky needed to do was glance in a mirror.

 Likewise, Ernesto "Che" Guevara stated openly that he hoped the Cuban missile crisis would lead to millions of Americans burning to death:
What we say is that we have to walk the path of liberation, even if it costs millions of atomic victims, because in the struggle to the death between two systems, nothing can be thought of except in the final victory of socialism, or its Retreat under the nuclear victory of imperialist aggression.

The point of Drs. Brook and Peikoff stands -- even if Marx and Engels did not foresee how their advocacy would lead to mass murder, they would have to be judged on account of mass murder being the philosophic preachings of Marx and Engels taken to their logical conclusion. Still, I think we should clarify that Marx and Engels did indeed foresee the day on which some ideological followers of theirs would slaughter millions of other human beings in order to make Marx's dream a reality -- and Marx and Engels openly relished the idea of that happening. Their blood lust was comparable to that of Stalin's; the difference is that unlike Marx and Engels, it was Stalin who arrived in history late enough to implement the programs of mass murder and mass executions for which Marx and Engels had yearned.