Why is Marxism Still Popular in Academic and Intellectual Circles?

I think there is an important question that needs to be answered in the world of thought. It is about Marxism, and persistently neglected and ignored; in fact, even efforts to raise it are sometimes prevented by either direct and harsh attacks or subtle, cunning, implicit, and indirect pressures.[1] The question is this: why is it that Marxism is still widely accepted and respected in academic and intellectual circles, although it has been theoretically refuted, and political and economic systems built on it collapsed in many cases in the 20Th century? This question cannot be said to be groundless, unnecessary, and unjust. Had another theory spectacularly failed as Marxism did, it would have already been thrown into the dump of history. However, Marxism did not end up in this way.[2] Why? This is a strange phenomenon that requires a meaningful and satisfactory explanation.

It cannot be denied that Karl Marx was a diligent intellectual, a productive writer who wrote a lot, and an activist who tried to set up revolutionary organizations. He was a figure who wrote in many areas, no matter whether he was competent or not in them. He had no other job in his life that he did as successfully as writing. Marx, like many thinker, pondered on the problems of his time. He developed envisagement and predictions about the future. However, having brilliant wit and a sharp pen is not always enough to develop consistent and accurate theses. The writers who fail to recognize the characteristics of social thought, the capacity limits of human beings and human groups, and the differences between the world of human relations, institutions and the physical world, can set the bar too high to reach and make serious mistakes, like Marx…

As we well know many factors play a role in social thinking, theory development, and writing activities. The main factors are the social characteristics of the period, dominant movements of thought of the time, the task or mission the writer has assigned to himself/herself, and the mission that others have assigned to him/her. In fact, these are often more important than the author’s own ability and the research and thinking method he/she adopted. The influence of all these are naturally reflected in Marx’s life and work.

Karl Marx was a typical 19th-century philosopher. He was a man of the era in which it was step by step witnessed that the industrial revolution changed people’s destiny and the positivist understanding of science invaded the world of social thought especially with regard to method and outcomes. The characteristics and mind patterns of his time were inevitably reflected in Marx’s thoughts. He was very pessimistic in the short term and overly optimistic in the long term. He approached to the social world as if he was approaching to the material world. According to Marx, there are social laws governing the human world similar to natural laws. These laws are economic in nature. The current state and the future of the world are determined by the relations of production (the type of property ownership plus mode of production) in a dialectical process. The discovery of these laws is possible; however, such a discovery is not an ordinary work that can be achieved by everyone. Only a philosopher like Marx who believes that he is an exceptionally talented thinker with almost divine qualifications could understand and formulate them. Once this work is achieved, the inevitable future (determinism) could be seen or directed (revolutionary activism).[3] Such an understanding of these main points led Marx to exaggerated claims and great prophecies. Although in 1883 there were few men that could be counted on the fingers in his funeral when his dead body was buried, soon after 30 years, Marxism became a stream of thought that stormed through the world. The communist phantasm, which Marx and Engels said was circulating in Europe in the Communist Manifesto, came true in the early 20th century, not when Marx was alive but after his death.

Marxist ideology left its mark on the 20th century. The 20th century was a complete age of Marxism (socialism, communism) in many ways. However, the collapse of Marxism was spectacular as much as its rise was. The elements of the collapse of Marxism are not only limited to the despotic socialist regimes that adopted Marxism as their official ideology, and constructed political and economic systems on the tenets of Marxism. Marxism had collapsed as a theory much earlier. The theoretical collapse naturally occurred before the practical collapse, but it was not sufficiently noticed because of the cold war and the fact that most of the academic-intellectual circles were under some sort of Marxist occupation. Almost all the important prophecies and historical explanation of Marxism proved wrong. The working class was not driven into misery. Profit-margins did not proceed in a way that would lead to capitalist collapse, as he had predicted. The middle classes did not disappear. Marxist regimes produced not material abundance but scarcity and could not provide people with their most basic needs. Instead of equality and justice, inequality and injustice became the sign of Marxist regimes. It was learned from the Marxist experiences that the areas of civil liberty, which Marxism did not care about theoretically at all, and Marxist regimes violated lavishly, was more important and functional than Marxism predicted. Briefly, Marxism was wrong, produced starvation, misery, and tyranny, and eventually collapsed practically, albeit with delay.[4]

However, the collapse of Marxist prophecies, theses, and large (nationwide) Marxist political and economic structures did not reflect on the intellectual world as much as it did in the political world. There have been few changes in the ideological map of power in the academic and intellectual world. Many Marxists still continue to believe in Marxism. Why? Why did these people stick to a collapsed theory and they still do so? The claims that “neo-liberal” ideas dominate in intellectual circles do not reflect the truth. At least in terms of number and ruling power, those who still dominate are Marxists and those who roam with them. Why? It is this strange and frightening situation that needs to be explained.

Leszek Kolakowski is an important thinker that we must turn our eyes on in an effort to answer this question. Even Kolakowski’s short life story shows this. Kolakowski, born in Poland in 1927, witnessed Nazi persecution during his childhood. After liberation, he joined the Polish Communist Party in 1945, which he thought was an anti-fascist party. However, his commitment to truth, human dignity, and freedom made it impossible for him to stay in the communist ranks. He was soon charged with “deviating from the Marxist-Leninist ideology” for his criticism of the socialist system in Poland. After a speech on the “October Revolution” in 1966, he was expelled from the party with routine ceremonies reminiscent of those in Orwell’s famous 1984. A lynching campaign was launched against Kolakowski in state-controlled media. Kolakowski was also expelled from the university on charges of “instilling youth ideas that go against the country’s official view”. He went into exile in 1968. He taught at major Western universities and eventually settled in Oxford. He became one of the biggest inspirations and supporters of the solidarity movement in Poland which brought down Polish communist regime. Throughout his academic and intellectual life, he accomplished many important works and won many prestigious awards. As this summary of his intellectual past shows, there are justifiable reasons for Kolakowski to be among the authors who should be referred first when trying to answer the question “Why is Marxism still popular amongst academics and intellectuals?”

Roger Kimball is also looking for an answer to the same question in Kolakowski’s works in a different but similar context in one of his articles that I benefited from while writing this article.[5] As he emphasized, Kolakowski both experienced Marxism by living in a communist regime and created a masterpiece on Marxism as a top-notch expert. Kolakowski is a great but little-known writer. The reason why he is not known as much as, for example, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault or even Richard Rorty is that he is not a man of the left-wing. However, it might be said that no socialist writer knows Marxism as much as Kolakowski does. The main work of Kolakowski is Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, The Golden Age, The Breakdown (1500 pages). In his book, the thinker makes an in-depth analysis of the essence of Marxism. His insights help us to grasp Marxism better, understand why Marxism collapsed, and explain why Marxism is still popular in academic and intellectual circles.

Lord Acton, the English philosopher and historian of freedom, said that what a social theory is against does not mean much by itself and what matters is what that theory advocates.[6] Kolakowski contributes to this finding by showing that while evaluating a grand social theory (or ideology), it does not suffice to consider only its theoretical ideals and goals; it is also necessary to put its methods to achieve its ideals and goals on the analysis table. Evaluations about Marxism are mostly, if not only, made in terms of its expressed ideals on paper and its long-term goals, but its actual status and realized results are constantly neglected. It can certainly be said that Marxism has a privileged position among all ideologies in this respect and has no desire to share this privilege with other social theories at all. Regardless of its intention and claim, the Marxist doctrine, according to Kolakowski, develops the formula to transform the society into a giant concentration camp (“Gulag society”), demanding the abolition of private property and full state control over the market. This point is extremely illuminating. The importance of private property and the free market can never be overstated. Indeed, many libertarian writers emphasized that revoking the right to private property of individuals would mean revoking their humanity and turning them into things. The same authors also pointed out that the abolition of the free market is the shortest way to barbarism.[7] However, those who regard private property and free exchange as the source of all kinds of evil ignore these warnings and seek to abolish private property. In Marxism, they find a safe shelter and a ground where they can discover additional intellectual ammunition to use in intellectual warfare. Then it would not be an exaggeration to say that those intellectuals and academics who oppose private property are likely to turn to Marxism and stay there. In other words, opposing private property is an obsession that almost ensures adherence to Marxism despite all its fiasco.

Another reason why intellectuals adhere to Marxism is a romance or a state of mind and soul that, like a brain virus, causes them to close their minds to material facts and information that accumulate like a mountain. In the age of positivism and childish optimism, when it has not yet been practiced as a political and economic model on a large scale and thus has not revealed its results, a person’s fascination with Marxism is a phenomenon that may not be excused but certainly explained. Who does not want to live in a heaven and benefit the most of its infinite blessings! Who does not want all kinds of injustice and poverty to disappear! Of course, no one. However, if adherence still persists to a theory that deepened and generalized the problems and evil that it aimed and declared to eliminate, and created the most oppressive political systems in history, then something might be causing to close, so to say,  the doors of reason, mind, and heart tightly in favor of that theory. We can find a typical example of this mind and heart-closing behavior in the story of how Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism published in France. It was unthinkable to publish Kolakowski’s three-volume work, written between 1968 and 1976, in Poland under communist regime. Therefore, the book, which was secretly introduced into Poland through off-the-record ways, was only legally published in 2000 in that country. In contrast, only the first two volumes of the book were published in “free France”. These two volumes were telling the story of Marxism from Marx to the death of Lenin. The third volume, which was addressing Stalinism and its various forms, including the New Left thinkers such as Louis Althusser and J. P. Sartre, could not be published. The reason was that publishers who were afraid that this volume would cause anger among French leftists did not want to take risks. The closed mindedness of French intellectuals to these facts and different ideas was repeated at different scales in many other countries.[8] Thus, socialists continued to keep their faith in Marxism by ignoring the events, facts, and information that refuted orthodox socialism and exhibited the brutal face of communist regimes.

While one set of neglected cases was the hunger, misery, and inequality created by socialism, another set was massacres. Marxism was the womb of the most widespread and brutal massacres ever seen in the countries where it dominated. Unfortunately, cruelty and massacre are evils that are not rare in human history. However, no era of history has seen mass murder on the scale that Marxist regimes committed. The logic, dimensions, and consequences of these mass murders were addressed by Kolakowski, like many other writers, in many articles and studies. From communist party leaders to civil war heroes, from ethnic minorities to peasants who wanted to protect their property at all costs, from university students to aristocrats, millions of people were brutally killed in the name and for the sake of Marxist dreams and ideals, with an “egalitarian” manner that excluded no segments of the society. However, information about these murders fell on deaf ears and blind eyes of intellectual circles in the West, and Marxists always managed to find new ways to refresh their belief in Marxism.

Another reason for the attractiveness of Marxism is, not surprisingly, its collectivist and utopian nature. The real strength of Marxism as an idea always resulted from its collectivist and promising character, not from the material foundations of its theses or its conformity with reason and logic. When Marxism was born, it promised a new world, and it still does.[9] Marx’s statement that “philosophers have only interpreted the world so far, the point is to change it” is an expression of this approach and it strikes at the heart of the stargazer intellectuals who are incapable of changing themselves but not shy of demanding for the complete renewal of society. Marxism’s labor theory of value and theories about the so-called cyclic crises of capitalism, the value of the proletariat, etc. are only particulars and each one is meaningful only to the extent that it helps change and transform the world.

Marxism gains an irresistible attraction when a scientificness is added to its new world promise that is identified with heaven on the earth. In other words, with this element, the intellectuals who “fall into the clutches” of Marxism are surrounded in every respect and in the strictest sense. Let us parse the basics of the picture again. Heart first: Pain and hunger should disappear, inequalities should end. (Okay! Who would not want?) Then science: Societies have immutable laws like natural laws. (Oh, how beautiful!) Then the chosen men: Only gifted intellectuals like (in fact only) Marx can discover these laws. (Whoever does this, we thank him/her on behalf of humanity) These laws push societies in a certain direction, as things are pulled by the gravity towards the center of the earth. (This is our destiny. What a beautiful destiny!) These laws are scientific and do not change at one’s sweet will. (Meaning ​​we will all be socialists and eventually we will live in a socialist world.) So human-will cannot resist them. (Bow to the inevitable) And here is the ideal society and world. The heart eventually met mind and science, and the chosen man completed the picture. We stay on target: Heaven on earth. The end of history. There is no way beyond. Who would not charmed by this picture?

Do not be in a hurry to hit on the answer by saying “No one can resist the temptation of this picture!” This picture does not impress everyone and does not equally affect those it impressed. For example, workers do not care much about this wonderful picture. Educated people and those who are proceeding in the education life (students) (petty-bourgeois, in Marxist terminology) take the lead among those who are enamored of this picture. In other words, Marxism is always popular among educated people almost everywhere in the world, but not among workers. The main reason for this is that, in its purest form, Marxism is easy to understand, believe, and follow for educated people. For this convenience, Marxism, according to Kolakowski, is similar to Freudianism, Darwinism, and Hegelianism: philosophy of “A key that fits every door.” A process that explains all aspects of human life, manages everything, and provides an opportunity for a universal explanation. An easy way to solve all human problems.  A world, where conflicts between people do not occur, where we can realize our human potential without competition, and where famine disappears. A communist utopia. A place that does not exist but will be created by Marxism. With this easy nature, Marxist theory serves utopian dreams and bewitches educated people who dream of a new world. Indeed, as Kolakowski says, Marxism is the “greatest fantasy” of the Twentieth Century. It blocks any effective potential rejection from its possible opponents by posing itself as science. However the main feature of Marxism attracting the educated people is that it promises an effortless good life by addressing human needs. As Kolakowski expresses the power of influence achieved by Marxism is due to its almost prophetic, fantastic, and irrational elements rather than its supposedly scientific character. Marxism is a doctrine of blindfold trust. Marxists thinks that a universal abundance awaits us around the corner. Almost all prophecies of Marx and his followers have proved wrong, but this does not disturb the faithfulness of the believers any more than the failure of religious prophesies disturbs that of radical religious sects. In this sense, Marxism performs a sort of religious function and its usefulness is of a religious nature. However, it is a cartoon and a false religion, because it presents spatial liberation as a scientific system, which (even) religious mythologies do not claim to be like.

Another feature of Marxism that makes it difficult or even impossible for some, to get rid of or to discard it is its polylogism. Marxism claims that the thought of a human being is shaped, in fact definitely determined, by the class he/she belongs to. Most of the Marxist intellectuals firmly believe in this claim, although they themselves usually constitute the greatest denial of it. If this is so, each thinker looks at events from his/her own class window. All of these are subjective perspectives, except Marxism. Only Marxism constitutes an objective and scientific perspective. So Marxists impose their ideological concept wordbooks on everyone without intending or realizing that they are doing so. It is impossible to argue with a Marxist with widely accepted concepts of social thought-science. Even if Marxists seem to use these concepts verbally, they attach special meanings to them, and those who are unaware of the Marxist jargon do not or cannot notice it. This method and jargon lock Marxists up in Marxism. It prevents them from getting light from outside and condemns their mind to darkness. In a sense, Marxism prohibits Marxists from stepping out of Marxism. Therefore, most of Marxists who are in doubt flutter inside their cage, rather than refusing the paradigm and feeling eased. He/she follows the command “You have been Marxist, stay Marxist.”[10] In connection with this, it would not be an exaggeration if we say that Marxism prohibits thinking about what will happen or how things will be run in the social life of the future Marxist system or model. Marx did not want his disciples to think about the basic features of life in the future socialist and communist world. He did not write much on these issues either. He saw socialism as a critique of capitalism. And his followers followed his footsteps. What will happen when the prophecies of Marxism come true and the socialist and then the communist system is established? How will economic life be arranged? Who will make the production and consumption decisions? Who will be in charge of making investment decisions? How will people’s different opinions and beliefs be reconciled? All these and similar questions/issues did not concern Marx. Marxists too are not anxious about them. Consequently, the future Marxist world has been left completely in a vacuum. Marxists either fled away from this issue completely or vaguely filled their personal imaginations and hopes into their personal understanding of Marxism. Thus, every individual Marxist had the opportunity to establish a separate and happy world in his/her mind.

The easy-promising and utopian character of Marxism completes its network with two things. First, Marxism produces a strong subculture in society. Marxists create their own jargon, fashion, and style. This culture includes slogans, symbolic words, and general formulas as well as ambitious academic studies. Second, it creates a neighborhood that is narrow within the general society but comparatively wide and tightly-knitted within the intellectual circles. A person who believes in Marxism consorts with his/her fellow intellectuals in Marxist intellectual circles. Emotional ties and stakeholder relations, as well as the idea companionship, develop within these circles. If you write a book as a Marxist, your comrades buy, praise, and promote it. They give rewards to your work so that you can in time make a fame. They also provide an environment of socialization. This subculture is complemented by ostracizing (in a sense, from the community) those who “misinterpret” the ideology or reflect a skeptical and questioning attitude towards the basic elements of faith. As age advances and Marxism occupies more of the mind cells, it becomes harder to resist the domination of the neighborhoods (neighborhood pressure). Getting old makes it difficult to restore the life or create a new circle of friends when the paradigm changes; the closed mind cells make understanding and perceiving alternative ideas an insurmountable task, an unnecessary and risky burden.

One of the most effective ways for Marxism to be attractive is not just to inject the ideas and hope that all human needs will be met equally, effortlessly and forever; It also resorts to the tendency of the banditry of human kind. Nowadays, Stalin and Stalinism are not very popular, but many Western intellectuals had praised Stalin and Stalinism in their past. They praised such a terrible mass murderer and his efforts to dominate the people that recognized no limit known to humanity. Violence and brutality created by Marxism are not an accident happening to Marxism, but an integral part of it; a natural result of what the ideology demanded. Marx never believed in democracy in the meaning of controlled, participatory, and limited government after the age of 25. He argued for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1906, Lenin wrote what Marx meant by this: “Dictatorship is boundless power based on force, not law.” Lenin said that this concept is a “scientific” concept and added that it means authority, which is not obstructed by law and bound by any rules in any way and is directly based on violence. Such an understanding of political power is called as despotism in political theory. In 1917, Lenin had the opportunity to actually show what this type of authority he previously described on paper would mean. In this system that institutionalizes the limitless authority, as observed by Kolakowski from inside, any criticism of the system was considered as a counter-revolutionary activity (namely: crime) which requires punishment ranging from imprisonment to execution at the discretion of the misgiving by the central or local representatives of the authority (party center administrators or local party and police chiefs). In fact, Marxists are neither inventors nor pioneers of this understanding. It was the French Revolution and Robespierre that created this terrible mentality. Robespierre praised “violence and its manifestation,” leading the period of terror following the French Revolution. He glorified the use of terror and said: “If the source of the popular government in time of peace is a virtue, its sources in revolution are at once virtue and terror. Terror without virtue is fatal, and a virtue without terror remains powerless. Terror is nothing more than prompt, severe, and inflexible justice, therefore it is an emanation of virtue. It is not so much a special principle but a consequence of the general principle of democracy adapted to the most urgent needs of our country.”[11] Since then, we know that terrorism is an integral part of revolutionary transformation and utopian thought. Lenin and other Marxists followed the footsteps of Robespierre, institutionalized terrorism, and perfected the machine of terror. In 1922, Lenin wrote: “Courts should not ban terrorism but formulate its underlying motives and legalize it as a principle in a way that leaves no doubt.” This is the understanding that creates the Gulags and paves the way that makes potential Stalins a real Stalin.

The thesis that Marxism’s attractiveness for intellectuals stems from its appeal to the embedded tendency of violence in human nature may seem paradoxical at first sight, especially when considering that in the Marxist jargon attractive terms like peace and brotherhood are generously employed. When we get rid of the influence of slogans and take a closer look at the essence of Marxism and what the intellectuals find in this essence, it is understood that there is no paradox. Marxism is already an ideology that sees violence as a legitimate and necessary tool. As Roberts points out, there is no humanist inside Marx. Marxist concept of freedom is to negate spontaneous or individual autonomy. This means that society is absolutely free (saved) from autonomous forces – a freedom that will come by means of the ability of society to control its own destiny. As Roberts rightly cites, Marx’s rejection of goodwill among different classes of society and his view that violence can be used as an effective mediator between different class interests led logically to Leninism and Stalinism.[12]

Revolutionary intellectuals are the ones who do not accept people and human societies as they are and have projects to transfer them completely and eternally. Marxism is a strong refuge and a good guide for those intellectuals who like the idea of social engineering. For this reason, every intellectual who has a revolutionary transformation project meets, sooner or later, Marxism, and some of them easily anchor on Marxism or use Marxism as a stop and then slide to other totalitarian directions. The example of the former is the Marxist writers we know, and the latter is the fascist philosophers. Marxism is the most advanced one of revolutionary theories that legitimate violence, but the mainspring of all revolutionary transformation theories is the same. Robespierre, Lenin, and Hitler wanted to change human beings and society from top to down. This crazy desire of authoritarian, despotic leaders corresponds to exactly what revolutionary intellectuals wanted to do: the desire to recreate new peoples and societies. However, revolutionary intellectuals, inevitably, are aware of their limitations. No new human and new society can be created by developing a theory on the paper. It requires using extensive violence and a well-organized machine of force that will operate perfectly. Political leaders, namely states, are the ones who are in the position to have the ability and capacity to use, if they see a need, unlimited violence and to control the machine of force. Therefore, intellectuals are attracted by the political leaders whom they see having the light of creating a new human and a brand new society, as the butterflies are attracted by the light. They make gain from this in two ways. First, they try to use power as a subcontractor in the realization of their community projects. Secondly, they believe that the political power will do what is necessary to reward them by acting differently from the society that denies the reputation and material gains they believe they deserve.[13]

The desire to create a new person and a new society makes these passionate persons see the use of excessive violence in all forms justifiable, legitimate, and necessary. Violence is the easiest and most spectacular way of exhibiting power. The ruling person who believes that he/she has a good project for a perfect human-society in mind does not want to be prevented from using violence in any way. This means that power is used in accordance with the instantaneous and arbitrary perceptions and decisions of the ruling power. This requires that power is not bound by and subject to rules. So communism, which institutionalizes violence as a political tool, belittles the law. Kolakowski points out that in Marxist understanding law can give terrible punishments for minor crimes without being specifically totalitarian; the characteristic of totalitarian law is that it uses formulas like Lenin’s: People can be killed because they express opinions that can objectively serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. This means that the state can kill anyone, any time it wishes; there is no such thing as law; the issue is not that the criminal law is too harsh, but that it does not actually exist, although supposedly existing. This contemptuous attitude towards law is the feature that distinguishes ordinary authoritarianism from totalitarian despotism.

The arbitrariness of the communist regime is a consequence of the ambition to fully control life. This is the natural feature of all totalitarian regimes and it is imperative that those in power will inevitably feel because of the project of creating a new human and a new society. Lenin once put it very clearly in terms of the communist regime by saying that that socialism is ultimately about “keeping account of everything”. In the Soviet Union, everything was subject to regulation from top to bottom. The only important thing was the top-down dictations from the party. In this sense, Marxism is the name of the system in which everything is reduced to the question of expediency and it is only power that calls the tune. In the Marxist mindset, things have no inherent value in themselves, and whether they have value or not is determined by whether they are useful for achieving communist goals. It is the party officials that will decide this. There can be no such thing as impartiality or indifference for a communist because there is no such thing as an independent and objective value. Nothing has an intrinsic value, because everything gets its value from its function within the impersonal utopia machine.

Naturally, human life has no value from in this understanding. Therefore, totalitarian regimes never hesitated to kill human beings in millions.[14] The loss of people’s lives was not a problem for the leaders of the totalitarian systems. Stalin said the death of a person is a tragedy and the death of a million people is a statistic. However, what Stalin neglected was that there was no such thing as an individual according to the communist logic. Likewise, according to this understanding, there is no such thing as independent judgment whether in science, law-judgment, art or aesthetics. According to Marxists, art and literature are not human activities performed according to their own sake and their own rules; they are tools that should be used for arbitrary and variable purposes of the Party. In 1905, Lenin wrote: “Down with literary supermen! Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat, a cog and a screw of one single great Social-Democratic mechanism set in motion by the entire politically-conscious vanguard of the entire working class.

Marxists legitimize to kill thousands even millions by asserting that eventually full and eternal happiness will be achieved. Not only this, but also mass exiles, isolation camps, slave labor, and police terrorism appear in Marxist regimes. Marxism will create such a world where natural beauty will combine with industrial welfare in this world. People who have been freed from the alienation of the division of labor will pursue the desired professional or pleasure activity in any part of their lives or even of their days. Not scarcity but abundance will be the basic truth of economic life. What a bummer that some violence will be necessary to achieve all these beautiful things! After all, it is necessary to break the eggs to make an omelet!

The more attractive the promises of Marxism are, the less convincing explanations with regard to how these promises will be achieved are. However, for some reason, Marxist believers are only concerned with what Marxism promises and neglect how and whether it will have these wonderful promises come true. Perhaps the most important source of the prolonged attractiveness of communism, according to Hollander, is the “capacity of people to separate goals from tools, good intentions from bad results, ideals from realities, and theory from practice”.[15] This might be a general human feature, but it is Marxism that makes the most use of it. This leads to the neglect of questions that should be asked to evaluate any system when it comes to Marxism-socialism. However, no system can be subjected to a complete and descriptive evaluation without answering these questions. For example, is there a guarantee that in a socialist society, production will exceed that in capitalist society in quality and quantity? Which production style will make this possible? How will basic economic decisions be made in a socialist society? Can the giant bureaucratic device, which is inevitably to be created, make the necessary decisions inclusively, accurately and fast enough? Even if it can, will it be able to make them applied? We must not assume that the problems are specific to socialist systems. The same problems will also exist in a communist society, which is expected to coincide more heavily with heaven on earth. Just pointing out a problem here underlined by Murray Rothbard is enough to show what the main problem will be in a communist system. Communist society is theoretically a society where private property rights are completely eliminated and the all the properties are transferred to society. However, the disappearance of private property (suppose it  happened!) does not eliminate the need to manage the property. Every society faces this problem and has to solve it, albeit in different ways. In a society where private property is essential, individuals manage their property. In a socialist society, where the property is supposedly socialized, a giant bureaucracy rules property in the name of the society(!). But who will rule the property in the communist society where ownership disappeared? No matter how much the theory ignores, the problem to manage the property will not disappear. And since it will not be desired to return to private property, the socialist model, which is a model of bureaucratic domination, becomes permanent, not temporary. Socialist despotism lasts until it reaches the inevitable breakdown.[16]

However, this ancient problem is ignored in socialist theory. Those who think that private property underlies all kinds of human problems therefore find theories that reject private property attractive, and Marxism is the most developed one of all these theories. In fact, the sympathy for the idea to abolish private property needs to be analyzed in many respects. There is no doubt that an important reason to oppose private property is jealousy, although mostly it is not admitted. The question “Why others have it, not us?” necessarily affects human behavior. The misconception here is the assumption that if something belongs to nobody then it belongs to everyone. As proven by historical cases, the amount of things that can be owned in where everything belongs to everyone inevitably decreases and the situation of everybody worsens.

Another reason for the attractiveness of Marxism among the intellectuals is the associations created in minds by the determinism that is intertwined with Marxism’s claim to be scientific. According to Marxist theory, the unchangeable, precise laws discovered by Marx govern human societies and history. These laws show that the future of humanity will inevitably be communism. It is like water flowing down. There can be no objection to the direction of the flow of water. Let alone the fact that this belief leads to a difficult problem of how to explain explain the existence of very radical, activist, life-sacrificing Marxist movements that attribute to history an aim and a direction, the reflection of this belief in the context of our subject is the appearance of Marxism like the army of  an ideology leading to the victory. If the victory of Marxism is inevitable, it would not be wise to stay out of the intellectual army fighting for Marxism. Who would want to be in the ranks of defeated armies? If all currents opposite to Marxism will eventually bend the knee to it, it will be smarter and safer to stay in the ranks of the victorious army. It is for this reason that intellectuals who accept dialectical materialism as the only or best way to read history appear to anchor on Marxism.

Of course, loyalty to Marxism without the need for any explanation and legitimization, such as some young people around the age of 20 exhibit, who are wandering in the radical youth movements, is not easy for those mature people, except in exceptional cases. The old generation, who has reached the age of sixty in 2000s, has already passed through the roads that present-day youths have been passing. They became aware of the persecution (Gulag, state terrorism, and starvation) caused by socialist regimes, even if it was hearsay. However, there must be an explanation for their adherence to Marxism. In this framework, a quite useful but immoral way is to distinguish between real socialism and ideal socialism and to justify real socialism by accusing real socialism, to say that, as some do, it was capitalism, not socialism, that collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, as I said, this is a morally problematic attitude. Marxists monopolized the real-ideal distinction, just as they made scientificness an inseparable part of their socialist ideology, denying it to liberalism and conservatism. No socialist writer realizes that fascism can also be divided into real and ideal fascism and that all the evil of fascism can be loaded into the real one and thus idealist fascism can be cleaned and justified.

In addition, those who escape from the events and facts that are difficult to explain and try to save socialism by naming collapsed socialism as real, not ideal, socialism are very stingy in explaining what is wrong with real socialism. What do those who defend ideal socialism and criticize real socialism oppose in real socialism in the name of ideal socialism? To the state ownership on things? To extremely centralized political? The absence of political pluralism and competition? To the being trimmed of civil rights and freedoms? To the victimization of individual to the collectivity? If they explain these and similar issues, they can put their case better. However, we have not heard much said by socialist ideologues so far. Socialists continue to criticize capitalism at full speed and leave what the socialist society and socialist life will be like to the imagination of people. This prevents socialists from making serious self-criticism and rectifying their mistakes. Those who attempt it are condemned and even terrorized. For this reason, Marxists continue to adhere to Marxism.

One reason for Marxists to still adopt Marxism in the former socialist countries and, in part, in countries that have never been fully socialist, is the economic performance of the former socialist countries and cartelization. Some of these countries reached a relatively stable democracy and a functioning market economy, while others stagger under the economic and political models that are neither fish nor flesh. Failures in this second group are often charged to capitalism.[17] In fact, some old people in these countries miss the “good old days”. It is clear that some of the “former” socialist countries are not doing well in some areas, but there are many reasons for this and some of them are have its roots in the past. For example, the reason why privatization in Russia created an oligarchy is the socialist political structure dominated in the country for decades. When the Soviet system collapsed and searches for the transition to the market economy and democracy began, the most advantageous ones were the most organized ones, and the most organized ones were those in the Soviet Communist Party ranks. When the system collapsed, the former communists became new oligarchs, and political power and economic power were again intertwined. So a kind of mafia order emerged. However, this was the product of the sediments of socialism rather than being the product of capitalism. Marxist intellectuals, both in the former socialist countries and those in other countries, could not and cannot still see or do not want to realize the fact. The political and economic culture they have prevents them from grasping the essence of the matter because they think that a market economy can be built with top-down instructions like a command economy.

The fact that intellectuals in countries that did not switch to full socialism have never had the full socialist experience also plays a role in their adherence to Marxism.[18] In fact, socialism is an extreme form of statism which always exists to this or that degree in almost every country.[19] But socialist intellectuals cannot diagnose this, and they suppose socialism can only exist in a country if it is fully implemented. Thus, Western Marxist writers do not know what socialism means in practice if they have not visited a socialist country and spent some time there. This makes it easy to stick to Marxism.[20] Intellectuals visiting a Marxist country are often shocked by the level of suppression and poverty. For example, visits to Cuba might give visitors interesting impressions in this regard.[21]

Finally, because Marxist intellectuals insist on staying within Marxism, they do not put the questions they ask about other systems (such as capitalism) to socialism and therefore cannot see the contradictions in Marxism. For example, they question the morality of capitalism but do not explain on which moral ground and why socialism should be preferred. It is assumed that the subjection of capitalism to moral criticism will automatically prove that preferring socialism will be a moral act. Likewise, it is not explained how the practice of socialism will be.[22] Marxists do not see the contradictions in Marxism either. One of the most typical examples of these is the mismatch between the minimal state, which is supposed to exist in a socialist society, and the economic planning that lifts markets and is supposed to achieve everything in the markets. If there will be a high degree of economic activity, the coordination of economic resources is needed. If the market, namely the institution of ownership of individual investors and producers and the decentralized decision-making process, is not allowed to do this, the market is inevitably replaced by bureaucracy. This leads to a tremendously concentrated political power and the birth of a class of political-ideological concessions.[23] But, let alone seeing this theoretical contradiction, Marxists ignore the actual facts and continue the intellectual and activist journey within Marxism.

Let us ask before finishing the article: Marxism has not lost its popularity so far, but is there any probability that it will do so in the foreseeable future? Actually, I am not optimistic about this to happen. The factors that make Marxism popular in academic and intellectual circles so far, some of which I have tried to address in this article, are unlikely to disappear in the short term. Another question mark is about where those who gave up Marxism will go. I guess the answer depends on one’s way of moving away from Marxism and the alternatives he/she has. There is no guarantee that anyone who gives up Marxism will turn to a worldview that is not totalitarian like Marxism. When we look at the intellectual picture in Turkey, we can find some clues about what might happen. If those whose minds are shaped by the patterns of Marxism cannot fulfill a philosophical rejection, they probably try to fill the vacuum in their mind created by the failure and collapse of Marxism with an approach that offers a pattern similar to that of Marxism. Therefore, former Marxists’ not shifting to new (say micro) totalitarian grounds, as well as an increase in the number of those who gave up Marxism, will depend on the performance of liberal and individualist philosophy in criticizing Marxism in the coming years.


* This is a revised version of my article “Marksizm Niçin Hâlâ Popüler?” Liberal Düşünce, Vol. 16, n. 61-62, Winter-Spring 2011, pp. 7 – 22

[1] For the purposes of this article, I will use the terms Marxism, communism, orthodox socialism, socialism interchangeably. Although there may be some differences between them, I do not think that their use in this way will create any major problem or is completely wrong.

[2] For interesting examples of how Marxists maintained their commitment to their failed ideology despite the great collapse in 1989-1991, see: Paul Hollander, Reflections on Communism Twenty Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Cato Institute, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity Policy Analysis, November 2, 2009, n. 11, p. 12

[3] For details of this summary of the character of Marxism, see The Economist, “Marx’tan Sonra Komünizm”, Transl. Atilla Yayla, Liberal Düşünce, v. 9, n. 33, Winter 2004, pp. 49-54

[4] For a small but enlightening article about why the basic views of Marxism are wrong, see David Gordon’s “Marxism Unmasked”, which is a review of Ludwig von Mises’s Marxism Unmasked: From Delusion to Destruction (Foundation for Economic Education, 2006), http://mises.org/daily/3323 (Access date: 3.12.2010).

[5] Roger Kimball, “Leszek Kolakowski and the Anatomy of Totalitarianism”, The New Criterion, June 2005, pp. 4-11.

[6] Lord Acton, “Nationality”. This classic article was first published in The Home and Foreign Review in 1862. The article is available at: www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/history/acton.html

[7] For a very influential explanation of this fact not only at the national level, but also through social groups with observations and analyses, see: Timothy Sandefur, Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America, Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2006. A part of this book, “Why Property Rights are Important?”, which is particularly important, was translated to Turkish by Şeyma Akın and published; “Özgürlüğün Köşe Taşı: 21. Asır Amerika’sında Mülkiyet Hakları”, Liberal Düşünce, v. 14, n. 53-54 (Spring 2009), pp. 23-64.

[8] Let me give you an example from Turkey. The famous analytical Marxist writer Jon Elster’s Understanding Marxism, was offered to a prominent leftist publishing house for publication after its translation was completed. The publishing house refused to print the book on the ground that “it could harm Marxism.” The book was released to Turkish readers by Liberte Publishing House.

[9] We naturally evaluate socialism by looking at its performance in officially socialist countries. However, in fact, socialism has a record in almost every country, depending on the degree of its domination especially in economic policies. I will not say this is being neglected most of the time; what needs to be said is that this is often not noticed at all. However, socialism appears in not socialist (supposedly capitalist) countries partially and people fail to understand its results, even they attribute them to capitalism. This point should also be kept in mind and further research should be conducted on the subject. For such a study about India see: Suraminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, Socialism Kills: The Human Cost of Delayed Economic Reform in India, Cato Institute Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Development Policy Briefing Paper, December 21, 2009, n. 4. This study indicates that it costed much for India to adopt socialist economic policies after independence in 1947. The author claims that if the economic reforms that started in 1991 (with the rejection of socialist economic policies) had started ten years earlier, the lives of 14.5 million children in India would have been saved, 261 million Indians would have learned to read and write, and 109 million would have been free from poverty. We learn from this study that the Nobel laureate Indian Economist Amartya Sen has previously voiced a similar claim in terms of women’s deaths: (Amartya Sen, “More than 100 Million Women Are Missing”, New York Review of Books, December 20,1990).

[10] Jeffry A. Tucker, “Marxism Without Polylogism”, http://mises.org/daily/3677 (access date: 03.12.2010)

[11] Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Faşizm, Transl. Enver Günsel, İstanbul: Pegasus Publishing House, 2010, p. 421.

[12] Paul Craig Robert, “My Time with Karl Mark”, The Independent Review, v. VIII, n. 4, Spring 2004, p. 588.

[13] It is a sad but interesting issue that intellectuals love authoritarianism and provide theoretical support to despots. Two sources are particularly enlightening in this regard: F. A. Hayek, Kölelik Yolu, Transl. Turhan Feyzioğlu – Yıldıray Arsan – Atilla Yayla, Ankara: Liberte Publishing House, 2009 ve James A. Gregor, Mussolini’s Intellectuals, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005.

[14] See: Stephane Courtois et al., Komünizmin Kara Kitabı, Transl. Bülent Tanatar et al., İstanbul: Doğan Kitap Publishing House, 2000. Anne Applebaum’s Gulag (Transl. Ufuk Demirbaş, Ankara: Arkadaş Publishing House, 2008) is noteworthy as the history of this famous concentration camp of the Soviets (publication year of the original version is 2003).

[15] Hollander, ibid., p. 22

[16] Every socialist model is doomed to collapse. Whether socialism is established in a country or around the world, it does not change. By acting in a little Marxist way, it can be said that this is a material imperative. According to Mises, if Soviet socialism did not collapse earlier, it was because not the whole world was socialist. The Soviet socialist administration followed and imitated the West in, for example, pricing and product development. If the West was socialist, the socialist model would have collapsed more quickly. In this context, it should not be forgotten that Gorbachev was not a traitor or a capitalist agent who wanted to destroy Soviet Communism, but a sincere communist who desired to save the system. See: Yuri Maltsev, “Introduction”, in Requiem for Marx, ed. Yuri Maltsev, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1993, pp. 7-31. For a very detailed source about political violence and domination in communist countries, see: Paul Hollander (ed.), From Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence and Repression in Communist States, ISI Books, 2006. For how opponents were silenced in Soviet Russia see: Vitaly Shentalinsky, Arrested Voices, New York: The Free Press, 1996.

[17] Hollander, ibid. p. 22. For the latest situation in Russia and the reasons why the Russian state turned into a mafia state with bureaucrats, businessmen, and politicians, and current predictions about the future of the country see. The Economist, “Dealing with Russia” and “The State of Russia: Frost at the Core”, December 11th, 2010, p. 14 and pp. 25-28.

[18] Hollander, ibid., s. 22

[19] See: Footnote 9

[20] There are resources about economic and social life in socialist countries, although insufficient. Some of these are academic and some are novel. Nobel laureate Herta Müller revealed in her novels the brutality and ugly face of the socialist system in Romania. Her novels are Yürekteki Hayvan (Telos Publishing House, 2009, second edition) and the Tilki Daha O Zaman Avcıydı  (Telos Publishing House, 2009, second edition) published in English and translated into Turkish. Müller’s Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009 increased interest in her works. One of Andrey Platonov’s novels, Çevengur, tells the drama of people who spend their lives for the sake of the socialist utopia, and Çukur tells the effects of socialist economic practices on individual lives. Many of these books is being printed by leftist publishers in Turkey. Interestingly, such books are sometimes described as “strange” in the reviews of book magazines and supplements. The following sources can be read for the actual situation in socialism: Raul R. Gregory, The Political Economy of Stalinism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004. For an important review that analyzes Marxism from a classical liberal and libertarian perspective see: Yuri Maltsev (ed.), Requiem for Marx, Auburn, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1993.

[21] About the situation in Cuba, one of the last socialist countries, see. Yoani Sânchez, Freedom and exchange in Communist Cuba, Cato Institute: Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity Development Policy Briefing Paper, June 16, 2010, n. 5; about life in North Korea bk. Kongdan Oh ve Ralph C. Hassip, North Korea Through the Looking Glass, Washington, D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 2000.

[22] Jeremy Shearmur, “Popper’s Critique of Marxism”, Critical Review, 1986/1987, Winter, p. 69

[23] Shearmur, ibid., p. 70. However, some writers, who are outside the socialist tradition, wrote various works on how life will be in socialism. An interesting one is Eugen Richter’s Picture of the Socialistic Future (Freely Adapted From Babel) (General Books). The book was first published in 1893 and depicted scenes from future socialist life. George Orwell’s famous Animal Farm is an allegory that tells the inevitable degeneration of the socialist system in the example of Soviet Russia. An interesting novel about the impossibility of socialist society and the inevitable transition from socialist society to capitalism is Henry Hazlitt, Time Will Run Back, Auburn: Mises Institute, 2007 (First published in 1951, its original name was The Great Idea). For crimes committed by states against humanity, including those of the socialist states see. Ralph Raico, “The Taboo against Truth”, http://mises.org/daily/4322 (first published by Liberty, September 1989) (access date 07.06.2010).


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