Marx’s defenders should explain why his ideas never actually work
Kristian Niemietz, 3 May 2018
Theo Heimann / Staff / Getty Images Tourists walks past the statue of Karl Marx and Joseph Engels in Berlin
This week will mark the 200th birthday of Karl Marx. It will be an occasion for a deluge of articles repeating the well-worn cliché that even though Marx’s predictions ultimately did not materialise, his analysis of capitalism was nonetheless spot on, and remains hugely relevant today. (In fact, it’s already started.)
Those articles will contain plenty of awkward attempts to squeeze contemporary developments into a Marxist framework, in order to make the case that the great man saw it all coming. There will be plenty of obscure Marx quotes on display, which, like Nostradamus quotes, will have the virtue of lending themselves to projection. Those articles will end with platitudes like “Marx still has a lot to teach us”, or “you cannot understand modern capitalism without understanding Marx”.
They will, of course, respect the unstated etiquette of any contemporary discussion of Marxism: that the outcomes of real-world attempts to implement them must never, ever, be held against Marx’s ideas. To even mention the Soviet Union or a similar system in a discussion about Marxism is considered gauche and boorish today. The underlying assumption is that a sophisticated person is able to grasp the difference between a theory and its distorted application, while conflating the two is a hallmark of a simple mind.
Marxism is, in the sense, an outlier. We would not do this with any other political or economic theory. The thing about political and economic theories is that they are never implemented in pure form.
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