by John Spritzler
[Read about what an egalitarian society is here.]
[Also a Must Read: "From Marx to Lenin" and "Great Ideas That Were Around Long Before Karl Marx"]
[Also of interest: "The Communist Manifesto is Wrong"]
[Read about the relation between Communism and Egalitarianism here]
[Here is an online book about how the values shared by most ordinary people are implicitly anti-capitalist and the basis of the society for which we are striving]
Did Karl Marx invent, or advocate shaping society by, the excellent principle of "From each according to ability, to each according to need"? Many people think the answer to both questions is "Yes." In fact the answer to both questions is "No." Read why in footnote **** .
Are Socialism and Communism good ideas, which unfortunately have been stigmatized because bad people who don't really believe in these ideas do bad things in their name? Or are they truly bad ideas whose implementation by genuine followers leads to very bad things? I think it's the latter, and here is why. (A personal note: I once was a member of a Marxist-Leninist party, the Progressive Labor Party, at which time I studied the works of Marx and Engels and Lenin and tried to act on their basis. Read here how I came to reject those ideas.)
Socialism and Communism, as even their most pure followers would agree, call for the government to own (or at least decisively control during some prior transition period leading to full ownership, as I discuss below in the section about the Chinese Communist Party) the means of production and to organize economic production (at least eventually, though not immediately, as discussed in the section about the CCP below) for the good of all and not for the profit of a few. There are two key ideas expressed in this formulation: #1) the government owns the means of production and #2) economic production for the good of all and not the profit of a few. Idea #2 is fine. It's idea #1 that is the problem.
What, exactly, is "the government"? Communists and Socialists both mean, by "the government," a strong central** government that makes laws and policies that everybody in the nation is obliged to follow or be arrested and face imprisonment. How are the individuals who constitute the central government selected? On this point the Communists and Socialists part ways. The Communists say that their Communist Party must be (or choose) the government in a "one party" state. The Socialists say the government must consist of politicians who won an election by the citizens (or are appointed by a politician or politicians who won such an election) and those they in turn appoint. The United States Constitution or the British parliamentary system are examples of such governments.
In either case, be it the Communist or Socialist method of constituting the central government, the result is the same in that everybody in the nation is obliged to obey laws written by a relatively small number of people, typically meeting in a capital city far away from most citizens. If the citizens disagree with a law, they are obliged to obey it or face imprisonment. Under Communism, there is no way citizens can ever change a law they don't like, except by rebelling against Communism or by persuading the Communist Party to change the law. Under Socialism, citizens can change the law by rebelling against Socialism or by waiting until the next election (which could be many years in the future) and voting for new politicians.
In both cases, ordinary people are not involved in making the laws they are required to obey. This very fact is a recipe for power to be exercised by people whose values and interests are different from those of ordinary people. Lord Acton knew a thing or two!
Why Socialist and Communist Governments Are Always Anti-Democratic
It's not just that the central government might end up becoming an instrument for domination of the population by people (the Socialist or Communist party leaders) whose values and interests are different from those of ordinary people; it's that Communists and Socialists, because of the Marxist theory they both embrace (explicitly in the former case and typically only implicitly in the latter case), intend for this to happen, in fact require that it happens. According to Marxism, ordinary people are dehumanized by capitalism; they lack class consciousness; their heads are filled with capitalist ideas and values. Worse, ordinary working class people are, according to Marx, as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. In his Capital, Volume I, Chapter 14, "Division of Labor and Manufacture," Section 5, Marx, who here quotes Adam Smith approvingly, writes:
[quotation begins here]
In manufacture, in order to make the collective labourer, and through him capital, rich in social productive power, each labourer must be made poor in individual productive powers.
“Ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand or the foot is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may ... be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.” 
As a matter of fact, some few manufacturers in the middle of the 18th century preferred, for certain operations that were trade secrets, to employ half-idiotic persons. 
“The understandings of the greater part of men,” says Adam Smith, “are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”
After describing the stupidity of the detail labourer he goes on:
“The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind... It corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employments than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilised society, this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall.” 
45. A. Ferguson, l.c., p. 280.
46. J. D. Tuckett: “A History of the Past and Present State of the Labouring Population.” Lond., 1846.
47. A. Smith: “Wealth of Nations,” Bk. v., ch. i, art. ii. Being a pupil of A. Ferguson who showed the disadvantageous effects of division of labour, Adam Smith was perfectly clear on this point. In the introduction to his work, where he ex professo praises division of labour, he indicates only in a cursory manner that it is the source of social inequalities. It is not till the 5th Book, on the Revenue of the State, that he reproduces Ferguson. In my “Misère de la Philosophie,” I have sufficiently explained the historical connexion between Ferguson, A. Smith, Lemontey, and Say, as regards their criticisms of Division of Labour, and have shown, for the first time, that Division of Labour as practised in manufactures, is a specific form of the capitalist mode of production.
[quotation ends here]
The elitist attitude towards working class people and peasants held by Marx and Engels******* is also explicitly evident in their Communist Manifesto, as discussed in "The Communist Manifesto is Wrong." The Manifesto believes peasants to be a backward class and declares that the bourgeoisie, by driving peasants off the land and increasing the urban population as compared with the rural, has "rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life."
The Manifesto even describes European imperialism as making "barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones," with these exact words:
"The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West."
Marx explicitly praised British imperialism in India as progressive, as I discuss below in the section about China's Communist Party. Similarly, the Manifesto sees the ruling elites, not the working class, as the source of "enlightenment and progress" with these exact words:
"Further, as we have already seen, entire sections of the ruling class are, by the advance of industry, precipitated into the proletariat, or are at least threatened in their conditions of existence. These also supply the proletariat with fresh elements of enlightenment and progress."
Marxism purports to be a science of social change. It is based on the axiom (i.e., premise) that individuals act in their self interest, and that what is in their self interest depends on the particular nature of the means of production in a given society and the individual's relation to those means of production. Marx explained this key element of Marxism--the materialist conception of history--in his 1867 Preface to the first German edition of A Contribution to the Criticism of Political Economy, first published in 1859, a work that was the basis for his more famous Das Kapital (volume 1) first published in 1867. In this Preface Marx writes of capitalist production specifically (in the context of comparing it in England and Germany):
"Intrinsically, it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future....
"I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them."
In the Marxist framework, class conflict is not correctly understood as a conflict between the majority of people who subjectively value equality and mutual aid (a.k.a. solidarity) versus the minority who value inequality and greed and domination of the many by the few. No! The Marxist framework understands class conflict to be a conflict between the self-interest of people who do not own the means of production versus the self-interest of those who do. The Marxist theory is based on the axiom that, insofar as people's behavior is relevant for understanding the "inevitable results" determined with "iron necessity" by "the natural laws of capitalist production," it is "only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests."
Instead of positive subjective values in conflict with negative subjective values, Marxists see only self-interest in conflict with self-interest.
Everybody, in the Marxist materialist conception of social change, acts only in their self interest*** and the changes in society are merely caused by the way changes in the means of production change what is in the self-interest of different parts of the population. As Marx put it, "The handmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist." In the Marxist "science" social change (leading eventually to socialism as a transition to the classless society of communism) happens because of impersonal political/economic****** laws driven by the material nature of the means of production and the self interests of individuals. The end of capitalism and arrival of communism happen not because this is the subjective conscious explicit aim and desire of flesh and blood working class people, but in spite of the fact that these people are "as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become."
This is why Marxist literature for the masses only appeals to their interests, not their values; it assumes their chief value is self-interest. As a result, many people feel insulted by such literature!
Try to find Marxist literature (written today or earlier) that explicitly says (however it is worded) this: That the positive values of ordinary people--the values of equality and mutual aid (solidarity) by which people routinely try to shape the small corners of the world over which they have any real control today--are the values that ought to shape all of society, that the purpose of revolution is to make this happen, and that these positive values of ordinary people conflict with the terrible values--inequality and domination of the many by the few--of the ruling elite. You will not find such a statement made by a person trained in Marxist theory! Marxists don't believe such a statement is true.
To the extent that the process of going from capitalism to a classless society requires conscious human intervention, it must, according to the science of Marxism, be the intervention of people who are not "as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become." Who would these people be? Obviously, they are a self-selected elite, who constitute a Socialist or Communist Party, and who believe that they, and not ordinary working class people, must hold the real power in society in order to guide it to the desired goal. This is why Socialist and Communist governments are, and must be, strong central governments that demand obedience by ordinary people.
But what kind of obedience does the Marxist science demand of ordinary people in a Socialist nation? It is obedience to laws that aim to increase economic production.**** The reason why Marxists believe this is because they believe that before a society can be based on "from each according to ability, to each according to need" economic production must be ramped up to eliminate scarcity. Marx expressed it this way in his Critique of the Gotha Program:
"In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!"***
Here's the rub. How does an elite governing class make it so that "the productive forces have also increased"? Given the presumption that people act in their self interest, the ruling elite will need to arrange things so that it is in each worker's self interest to work harder and produce more. Well, the capitalists have invented terrific ways of doing just that. The trick is to make society very unequal and lure people to work harder with the promise that if they do they will be rewarded with greater wealth (and privileges wealth can purchase) than others. Piecework does this by paying the worker only according to how much he/she produces. Another method is Taylorism, which Lenin advocated with enthusiasm. Taylorism is the "science" of breaking the production process into lots of separate tiny actions and making each worker do just one of those actions over and over and over. Taylorism aims to make each worker as unskilled as possible, thus making workers easily replaceable, which is important for a ruling elite that does not want to be bothered by workers making demands and threatening to bring production to a stop by refusing to work until they are satisfied. An article in the International Journal of Social Economics shows how Lenin advocated both methods:
"In an Apri1 28, 1918 article in Pravda discussing the “urgent problems of the Soviet rule”, and under the heading “Higher productivity of labor”, Lenin (1965a, p. xxii) wrote:
We should immediately introduce piecework and try it out in practice. We should try out every scientific and progressive suggestion of the Taylor system . . . The Russian is a poor worker in comparison with the advanced nations, and this could not be otherwise under the regime of the Czar and other remnants of feudalism. The last word of capitalism in this respect, the Taylor System, as well as all progressive measures of capitalism, combine the refined cruelty of bourgeois exploitation and a number of most valuable scientific attainments in the analysis of mechanical motions during work, in dismissing superfluous and useless motions, in determining the most correct methods of work, the best systems of accounting and control, etc. The Soviet Republic must adopt valuable and scientific technical advance in this field. The possibility of socialism will be determined by our success in combining Soviet rule and Soviet organization of management with the latest progressive measures in capitalism. We must introduce in Russia the study and teaching of the new Taylor System and its systematic trial and adaptation.
"...In a speech to the Supreme Economic Council he proposed the introduction of piece rates payment based on performance, a scientific management notion that had not found extensive support among trade union officials elsewhere. He also told the Supreme Economic Council that discipline must be more strict, a view that reached English reading audiences through the Bulletin of the Taylor Society which reprinted Lenin’s speech:
“It would be the greatest stupidity and the most absurd opportunism to suppose that the transition from capitalism to socialism is possible without compulsion and dictatorship” (Lenin, 1965a, p. 378).
"No one in a free society could speak with such hubris." [emphasis and italics added]
As would have been no surprise to Lord Acton, what actually happens when Socialists or Communists are in power and carrying out their Marxist "science," is that society remains as undemocratic as any capitalist society in terms of ordinary people not having any real say (even if they have the trappings of democracy), and it remains as unequal as any capitalist society. Indeed, from the point of view of ordinary working people, it does not fundamentally differ from capitalism and it gives no indication of ever moving towards a classless egalitarian society at all. And this is true when the Communist or Socialist leaders are genuinely following their Marxist "science."
Actually Existing Socialism
Now let's take a look at what actual self-described socialists do when they have power. [The following information comes from Wikipedia here.] Take, for example, the socialist party in Greece, called the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party. Its leader, Georgios Papandreou, became the Prime Minister of Greece in 2009. He was also President of the Socialist International since January 2006. If anybody is a socialist, he is.
Unlike People for Democratic Revolution (see their leaflet here) the socialist Papandreou thinks that the banks must be repaid their debts. Wikipedia reports:
Upon inauguration, Papandreou's government revealed that its finances were far worse than previous announcements, with a year deficit of 12.7% of GDP, four times more than the eurozone's limit, and a public debt of $410 billion. This announcement served only to worsen the severe crisis the Greek economy was undergoing, with an unemployment rate of 10% and the country's debt rating being lowered to BBB+, the lowest in the eurozone. Papandreou responded by promoting austerity measures, reducing spending, increasing taxes, freezing additional taxes and hiring and introducing measures aimed at combatting rampant tax evasion and reducing the country's public sector. The announced austerity program caused a wave of nationwide strikes and has been criticised by both the EU and the eurozone nations' finance ministers as falling short of its goals. ...
On 25 May 2011 the Real Democracy Now! movement started protesting in Athens and other major Greek cities. At the time, the peaceful protests were considered to be a sign of popular rejection of Mr. Papandreou and his government's economic policies, with as much as three quarters of the Greek population being against the policies of the Papandreou government. Among the demands of the demonstrations at Athens's central square, who claim to have been over 500,000 at one point, is the resignation of Papandreou and his government.
Whose side are we on? On the side of "three quarters of the Greek population" protesting the same austerity that our leaflet also condemns, or on the side of the President of the Socialist International who implemented that austerity? Clearly the former!
Sweden, sometimes described as "socialist" is nothing we should emulate, as discussed here.
Yes, the Chinese Communist Party Is Applying Marxism (Unfortunately!)
Some people think that because the Chinese Communist Party is promoting capitalism to the extreme, that therefore it is not really a communist party and that Karl Marx, if he knew what was happening in China in his name, would be turning in his grave. But no, he would likely approve of what the Chinese Communist Party (officially named the Communist Party of China) is doing. Here's why.
Marxism defends capitalism--even the most savage and brutal capitalism--as progressive and necessary in regions with economic scarcity. For example, Marx defended British Imperialism in India, which he fully acknowledged was extremely brutal, on the grounds that it was necessary for progress. He makes this point in his article for the New York Herald Tribune, June 25, 1853, in which he starts out by noting that,
"There cannot, however, remain any doubt but that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before."
Then he concludes:
"England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution."
What makes the Chinese Communist Party a communist party perfectly in keeping with Marxism is the fact that it is indeed a party of Marxist-Leninists who are (or at least try to be) totally in control of Chinese society, including in control of the capitalists. Using capitalism with all of its "misery inflicted" [to use Marx's phrase for the British imperialism he declared to be so necessary] in order to increase economic production to the maximum before any effort to have "society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!" is exactly what Marxism is all about. And it stinks! (And no, it is not required to increase economic production, as the great productivity of the egalitarians, a.k.a. anarchists, in almost half of Spain in 1936-9, demonstrates, which I discuss in detail here.)
The particular way in which the Chinese Communist Party controls the capitalists is described in some detail in an online article here; it notes (of the firms that are permitted to be large):
"These favored firms enjoy extraordinary privileges, monopoly rents, and access to the local Party’s patronage networks while the municipalities use China’s labyrinthine formal rules to seal out those firms’ potential competitors. In return, the Party gets its share of monopoly profits while retaining enormous formal and informal control over the private economy."
With the above in mind it should no longer surprise anybody to learn that the Chinese Communist Party makes the teaching of Marxism a very serious part of the education of Chinese people. This is not paradoxical at all! Read one Chinese person describe his/her (not sure which) very serious middle (i.e., high school) instruction about Marxism in some detail here. The South China Morning Post has an article titled, "Communist Party orders a course of Marxism for China's universities. Universities told to expand classes on ideology for teachers and students." Only those who do not understand what Marxism really is are baffled by the fact that the Chinese Communist Party promotes both capitalism and the teaching of Marxism.
We often hear that the Chinese Communist Party has lifted the Chinese people up out of poverty. To understand how false this claim is (about not only China but other nations also), read "Bill Gates Says Poverty Is Decreasing. He Couldn't Be More Wrong" by Jason Hickel (also see this same point made about Africa here). Millions of rural Chinese peasants have been forced to leave the rural countryside and immigrate to cities to work in the cheap labor and extremely oppresive factories, as described in some detail here. In the rural homes they left, they did not have very much money, nor need to rely upon money, to get what they needed to live; but in the city they relied totally on their wage to buy what they needed to live--and it provided an abject poverty standard of living. The fact that their city wage was higher than whatever small amount of money they obtained in the countryside does not mean their standard of living was higher in the city than in the countryside; the opposite was the case. But apologists for the Chinese Communist Party point to the wage to assert that the peasants were "lifted out of poverty."
Cuba, Where Socialism Means Increasing Inequality
Socialism in Cuba, under the rule of the Cuban Communist Party, has resulted in increasing economic inequality, as reported here and here and here and here and here and here and here. The explanation is that, for Marxists, equality is not the goal; increasing economic production is the goal. Marxists believe that inequality is necessary to motivate people to work hard and produce more. The experience of egalitarianism in Spain in the years 1936-9, however, shows that when there was vastly more equality then economic productivity increased, even despite the need for much of the population to be engaged in military service to defend the revolution against the fascist General Franco.
If You Want to Consider Sweden to Be Socialist, Then Read about Sweden Here
If You Want to Consider Germany (Social Democracy) to Be Socialist, Then Read about Germany Here
If You Want to Consider Venezuela to Be Socialist, then...
Consider what Venezuelan anarchists say about the Maduro government by reading some of their articles and views here and here, for starters. I suggest reading what the anarchists say simply because their anti-capitalist critique of the Maduro government is infinitely more interesting (even if one disagrees with it in whole or in part!) than the pro-capitalist critiques in the mainstream press.
Not Socialism or Communism, but Egalitarianism
The difference between people for democratic revolution (whom I will refer to as egalitarians for egalitarianism) versus Socialists and Communists is that egalitarians, in contrast to the latter, believe that the fundamental conflict in society is between a working class culture of equality (in the no rich and no poor sense as discussed here) and mutual aid versus an elite culture of inequality and pitting people against each other to control and dominate them. Unlike the Marxists, egalitarians know that most ordinary people quite consciously and explicitly favor equality over inequality and favor mutual aid over being pitted against one another. (See photos of some of these people here and read more about how most people want egalitarianism here.) Unlike Socialists and Communists, egalitarians want society to be shaped by the values ordinary people share, and egalitarians see the aim of revolution as the shaping of all of society by the values by which ordinary people, in their everyday lives, already are trying to shape the little corner of the world over which they may have some real control.
This is why, in contrast to Socialists and Communists who need to control people with a strong central government, egalitarians reject the very idea of a central government (as discussed here). Egalitarians want ordinary people who value equality and mutual aid to have all of the power. The way to do this is voluntary federation, in which local community assemblies of all the people in a community who value equality and mutual aid are invited to participate as equals in the writing of the ONLY laws (and economic policies, etc.) that people in that local community must obey; and delegates from local assemblies are given the task of crafting proposals (not laws!) for the local assemblies (in a region whose size could be anywhere from a handful of local communities to as large as the entire planet) to accept and act upon or not as they wish. (In practice, of course, proposals would go through a process of amendments by the delegates and suggestions from local assemblies to the delegates in order to obtain the consent of as many local assemblies as are necessary to implement the proposal.) Read more about this here (for a brief description) and here for a more detailed one. Read here how egalitarianism in about half of Spain in 1936-9 was more economically productive than the preceding capitalism there.
Socialists and Communists reject the notion of voluntary federation. The premise for it--that ordinary people are the conscious source of the values that should shape society, values that are the opposite of capitalist values--is one that has no place whatsover in the Marxist theory that guides Socialists and Communists. The proof of this is that one can search in the Marxist literature as long as one wants and one will never find this premise expressed. Instead one will find only statements about how the material interests (not values) of working class people are different from the interests of capitalists. The Socialists and Communists see their goal not as ensuring that ordinary people have the real power in society, but rather as social engineering society supposedly in the interests of ordinary people. It is a fundamentally elitist outlook: "We know what's best for you; now obey us."*****
Socialism and Communism have attained the status of derogatory words among billions of people because Socialist and Communist governments have demonstrated the utter contempt for ordinary people that underlies the thinking of their Marxist leaders. Billions of people equate Socialism and Communism with the suppression of democracy, and they have good reason for doing this. They also are leery of "democracy" when it is advocated by leaders of the capitalist nations because they know that this "democracy" is fake democracy, with all the trappings of elections but none of the substance of ordinary people having the real say in society.
As I discuss in A Misunderstanding about Democracy, democracy is a way for people with shared fundamental values (and only for people with shared fundamental values) to cooperate for shared fundamental goals that shape society by these values. Voluntary federation of people who share the values of equality and mutual aid is the only way that such people can effectively cooperate to shape society by those values. It is also the way such people can cooperate to prevent (forcibly if neccessary, with a militia organized by many local communities with voluntary federation) people with opposite values from shaping society by their contrary (negative) values.
It is time to start Thinking about Revolution, not for Socialism or Communism, but for egalitarianism. The success of such an egalitarian revolution will depend on understanding why it has nothing whatsoever to do with Socialism or Communism.
* When first published, the phrase in the title was "Democratic Revolution" but subsequently I have used the phrase "Egalitarian Revolution" instead; they both mean the same thing in my usage, and it is discussed fully at PDRBoston.org.
** Communists call for a centralized state to increase economic production "as rapidly as possible" in the Communist Manifesto (by Marx and Engels) as follows:
We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
Marx advocated a strong central government unambiguously. In the "Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League" by Marx and Engels, written in 1850, they declare:
"In opposition to this plan the workers must not only strive for one and indivisible German republic, but also, within this republic, for the most decisive centralization of power in the hands of the state authority. They should not let themselves be led astray by empty democratic talk about the freedom of the municipalities, self-government, etc."
After the Paris Commune of 1871, Marx and Engels added to their theory the idea of immediate recall of elected Central Government officials. In 1891 Engels wrote, in his introduction to Marx's The Civil War in France:
From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself,and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.
While immediate recall is a good principle, it is not a substitute for the more important need to reject the invalid authoritarian principle that says "You must obey the highest level of government (typically the Central government) just because the government declares it is legitimate." (Read about the valid versus invalid authoritarian principle in "What Makes A Government Legitimate?") Revolutionary movements aiming for genuine democracy had by this time already rejected this invalid authoritarian principle (go here to read about this history and here to read about why it is vital to reject the invalid authoritarian principle.) Marx and Engels, however, embraced the authoritarian principle. In their view the "deputies and officials" should be empowered--at least until they are recalled--to command (make laws for) everybody else. This is the opposite of how genuine democracy--voluntary federation--works, as described here.
For Marx, a strong centralized government was needed because it was, in his view, necessary in order to increase economic production to the point where scarcity would be abolished; only then could the state "wither away" in the classless society of communism. Marx was wrong; when economic productivity is a widely shared goal then decentralized power (voluntary federation, i.e., genuine democracy) is far more conducive to economic productivity than anti-democratic domination by a strong central government.
*** That all people act primarily out of self-interest was the dominant view of virtually all intellectuals at the time Marx wrote; Marx differed from the others only in drawing different conclusions from this initial axiom (i.e., assumption.)
**** I fully agree with the principle of "From each according to ability, to each according to need." This is the basis of the sharing economy discussed in Thinking about Revolution, co-authored by me, and also on my website here. But it should be noted that Marx did not invent this idea, he merely popularized it in his Critique of the Gotha Program (quoted above), in which he emphasized that society could NOT be based on this principle until far FAR in the future. Here are his exact words:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
Marx thought that, since people were just motivated by self-interest, they would never share things according to "From each according to his ability, to each according his needs," as long as there was still economic scarcity. But in about half of Spain during the Spanish Revolution 1936-9 led by people (who called themselves anarchists) who rejected this Marxist view of people, the "From each according to need, to each according to ability" principle was implemented with great success despite great economic scarcity; economic productivity increased even though many people had to be in the militias fighting the fascist General Franco. Read about this here.
As early as 1775 in his Code de la Nature ou le Veritable esprit de Ses Lois a Frenchman named Morelly wrote, long before Karl Marx was even born, that his aim was "To distribute work according to capacity; products according to needs." The same idea appears even earlier, in the Bible (Acts, 4:34-35): "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." According to the authors of this Monthly Review article, "Back in 1987, a poll of the U.S. population indicated that 45 percent of the population believed that Marx’s famous words from the Critique of the Gotha Programme delimiting communism—'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'—were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. This, of course, said more about the absolute ideals of most Americans, and what they thought they should expect, than about the U.S. Constitution itself.19"
***** Che Guevara expresses this elitist view in his essay, "Socialism and Man in Cuba." In this short essay, Guevara repeats over and over again the theme that ordinary people are defective and must be re-made into a "new man and woman," which is the task of the vanguard Marxist revolutionary party:
"In our society the youth and the party play a big part. The former is especially important because it is the malleable clay from which the new person can be built with none of the old defects."
"To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman. "
"The resulting theory will, no doubt, put great stress on the two pillars of the construction of socialism: the education of the new man and woman and the development of technology."
"Each and every one of us readily pays his or her quota of sacrifice, conscious of being rewarded with the satisfaction of fulfilling a duty, conscious of advancing with everyone toward the new man and woman glimpsed on the horizon. "
"In this period of the building of socialism we can see the new man and woman being born. The image is not yet completely finished — it never will be, since the process goes forward hand in hand with the development of new economic forms."
Click here to read an interesting article about Che Guevara.
****** This is why Marxists are so focused on the economy, on its booms and busts and over-productions and under-productions, etc., and on how well Marxist theory predicts such things; Marxists derive their hope for a classless society on these impersonal economic developments INSTEAD OF on the subjective aims of working class people.
******* Here's an example of how another very elitist, indeed racist, idea, common among 19th century intellectuals, was also believed by Friedrich Engels (and not, to my knowledge, refuted by Karl Marx.) In Engels's Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State he writes:
"The plentiful supply of milk and meat and especially the beneficial effect of these foods on the growth of the children account perhaps for the superior development of the Aryan and Semitic races. It is a fact that the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, who are reduced to an almost entirely vegetarian diet, have a smaller brain than the Indians at the lower stage of barbarism, who eat more meat and fish." [Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/origin_family.pdf ]