The Verdict on Marxism-Leninism: "Case Closed"

by Norman Berdichevsky (April 2007)

Gerald Posner’s brilliant and definitive analysis of the Kennedy assassination, Case Closed (Doubleday, 1993), traces the abysmal and pathetic life of the lone assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, a name that will live in infamy. The story is one of repeated failures and a search for martyrdom to find meaning through death for a life completely unfulfilled.

Oswald’s search for a just and well functioning Marxist state and society served to assuage his feelings of always being a misfit and outsider longing for fame, recognition or notoriety at any price. Posner’s conclusions could very well serve as an analogy for the three generations of doctrinaire Leftwing “activists” who continued to hope against hope that somewhere, sometime, somehow an undefiled Marxist society world arise that would not repeat the errors and catastrophes of the Soviet Union (Stalinism, the purges and forced labor camps of the Gulag), China (The “Great Leap Forward”), or Cuba (a million and a half exiles and an even greater concentration on the production of sugar and tobacco than before the Revolution) or even more absurd candidates such as Romania, Albania, Vietnam and East Germany.

The Unquenchable Thirst for Conspiracy and the Real Socialist Society

In Posner’s final pages (469-470), he concludes…”The search for a darker truth than the lone assassin seems unquenchable. The desire to find a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination will continue to be answered for years by more “confessions”, witnesses who change their testimony to recall disturbing events, the appearance of papers of dubious authenticity, and by writers and researchers who present cases of guilt by association supported by rumor and innuendo. But for those seeking the truth, the facts are incontrovertible. They can be tested against credible testimony, documents and the latest scientific advances. Chasing shadows on the grassy knoll will never substitute for real history. Lee Harvey Oswald, driven by his own twisted and impenetrable furies was the only assassin at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. To say otherwise in the light of the overwhelming evidence, is to absolve a man with blood on his hands and to mock the President he killed.”

The same can be essentially said for the many critics of capitalism and American institutions who are driven by the same unquenchable thirst to apply Marxist-Leninist theory to the world’s ills. Their insistence that the theory is correct but has somehow always been perverted is nothing less than the search for new evidence of the conspiracy that killed JFK which has been hidden by the “establishment”. They continue to chase the shadows of an imaginary immaculate socialist or communist society they are convinced should solve all the shortcomings of capitalism including war, poverty, crime and prejudice. The incontrovertible evidence of the countless crimes against humanity and the millions of lives snuffed out in the 20th century by those who clung to the Red Flag and hammer and sickle emblems have always been excused, blamed on others, forgotten or denied.

As with Oswald, these critics are incapable of seeing that the Conspiracy Theory Emperor is naked and that the many failures of the past were a direct outcome of that same theory they held so dear in their youth. They acknowledge that the tree can easily be recognized from the fruit it bears but bitter fruit is the inevitable consequence of a diseased tree, or one that has been neglected, or improperly cultivated, no matter how well meaning the gardener was.

The Garbage Can of History

The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes in Eastern Europe is a fact of history. The “garbage can of history” to which numerous communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev, Mao Tse-Tung and Castro assigned capitalism is now full to the brim with the collected works of Marx and Lenin in dozens of languages; their portraits emblazoned on life size statues, red flags, hammer and sickle emblems, medallions and the millions of tons of Soviet and East Bloc military equipment are rusting and rotting on forgotten battlefields in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. No economist however skilled has ever really made a full account of this useless waste of capital and human lives and what its potential investment benefit in peaceful resources would have meant for the entire world.

The Means of Production and Distribution

What “solutions” did Marx and Lenin offer to the oppressed workers and nationalities of the world of their time and how relevant, if at all, are these solutions today? Are the problems of unemployment and national identity analyzed by Marx and Lenin in the last century obsolete or solvable by Capitalism and the present world order?

In this partnership, Leninism meant the Soviet way to realize “socialism” by temporarily seizing power enforcing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to carry out the ownership and regulation of the means of production and distribution until such time as the state would wither away. The result was an absolutist state that rivaled the Pharaohs of Egypt. Marxism remains a tool of political and social analysis of the dominant role of economic affairs in human history based on the recognition of a diversity of interests between classes. While there is no dispute that Marx made many wrong predictions such as that the workers would seize power first in the most advanced industrial states, there are still many historians, economists and sociologists who argue that Marx’s analysis of the struggle between the haves and the have-nots retains its validity.

To Have and Have Not

For Marx, “to have and have not” meant capital and land that put immense power at the disposal of those who owned them whereas the workers possessed only their labor that had to be offered to the highest bidder. The great irony of our time is that this third factor – work is now the critical one. There is not enough “work” (i.e. salaried employment) to satisfy the valuable supply of labor – at least this is the major political problem in a majority of developed industrial capitalist countries in Europe. Jobs, not land or capital are in critically short supply. A job now is the major criterion by which to divide the haves from the ‘have-nots’.

Unemployment benefits exits in all developed countries and provide an economic safety net far beyond the dreams of nineteenth century industrial workers, yet in spite of the progress made in the amount and quality of goods, and a dramatic rise in the standard of living and security from the threat of illness since Marx’s time, unemployment remains a grave problem aggravating all others. In this sense, many traditionalists and religious people would agree with Marxists that idleness is the root of all evil.

Work is, was and will always be more than just ‘the means of production’. It is a good in scarce supply, one that allows the individual to attain self-expression, creativity and social development, rather than merely satisfying essential physical needs – -food, shelter and clothing. A growing segment of society combining the under 30 year olds who have never been gainfully employed and an over 40 year old category have despaired of finding new jobs after being laid off, threatening the social fabric in all industrial societies. Even the most successful economic powerhouses with low unemployment such as Japan, Taiwan, and Korea fear the social and political consequences of the slightest rise in the jobless rate.

The nineteenth century problems of alcoholism and petty crime that were so prevalent among the unemployed pale in comparison with the drug addiction, violent crime, divorce, and psychological disorders that are widespread today there is no evidence however that these problems were substantially ameliorated or better treated in the USSR and the East European communist states. The reverse was more likely the case. Under the rubric of ‘psychological care’, political opponents of the regime were sent to languish in mental hospitals or forced labor camps.

The ‘solution’ of Marxism for the working class to assume the means of production and distribution to prevent unemployment and eventually help the state to “wither away” were never put into practice anywhere. Ownership resided with a state bureaucracy devoted to the interests of the Party – the new privileged class. Direct control of production by the producers themselves has existed briefly within small ‘island communities’ on a limited scale such as the Israeli kibbutzim and the Amish and Mennonite communities in the United States and Canada. Nevertheless their production was tied to the demand of market forces among consumers. In spite of ideological commitments, these communities have been forced to produce for the highest bidders among consumers and not according to ‘need’. Moreover, many of them have had to employ labor from outside the community.

The Mill Town Company Store Analogy

The state’s role in guaranteeing ‘employment’ in the USSR was a mirage. The same can be achieved anywhere by forcing labor to be engaged in prestige projects of no utility to society as a whole. This was what the Pharaohs did in building the pyramids. They too ‘solved’ the problem of unemployment.
On a practical scale, state monopolies of all sources of employment became a weapon in the hands of a bureaucratic and despotic regime that created a new class and made the state more powerful than any old American mill town company store. The immensity of hidden unemployment in the Eastern bloc only became apparent after the collapse of communism and the dismemberment of the state apparatus controlling production and distribution.

The National Question – An Unresolved Dilemma

In 1913, Stalin wrote what has been termed his “most important contribution to Marxist theory” entitled “The National Question and Social Democracy ” This essay won Lenin’s approval and made Stalin known internationally. Stalin attacked Socialist leader Otto Bauer who had proposed a model of “cultural autonomy” on the “personal principle” for individuals wherever they lived to choose and maintain their own sense of national identity. Although nationalism, like religion, was often termed a deviation from the true “class interests of the workers”, Stalin asserted that

“A nation has the right freely to determine its own destiny. It has the right to arrange its life as it sees fit, without, of course, trampling on the rights of other nations. That is beyond dispute.”

Nevertheless, the many nationalist conflicts of the twentieth century were not solvable by any Marxist formula of “class solidarity”. The expected solidarity of the working class across national and linguistic boundaries was a mirage. The calls of the socialist international to prevent the First World War went unheeded except for a tiny minority. The intensified violent nationalist conflicts over territory and the demands to impose strict immigration quotas as well as sporadic campaigns in dozens of countries for regional autonomy minoirty or special language rights read like a list of defeats for class solidarity.

On the other hand, the European Community, the major market of Capitalist Europe promises to do away with the old national barriers on the movement of people, goods and capital. Just compare for the sake of argument the burial of the old Franco-German hatred with the savage tribalism unleashed in Yugoslavia and the USSR after decades of preaching international solidarity. The greatest success story in ameliorating old ethnic hatreds and forging a new sense of nationhood without a basis in “blood” is the United States. Its success, based on an open society of liberal capitalism and tolerance contrasts with the inherited blood feuds that are now growing almost everywhere.

The growth of nativist populist and anti-foreign movements such as La Pen in France, other Far Right European political parties, neo-Nazism in Germany, the English “skinheads”, the candidacy for Senator in the Republican open primary in 1990 of KKK ”Grand Wizard” David Duke in Louisiana (where he actually won close to a majority of 60% of the white vote) all drew their strength from the broad segment of the working population that was the targeted core of Marxist parties in the past.

Whatever the international appeal of pop music, the rock sub-culture and football, it has not made the young more tolerant. Who can forget the scene of the Nazi youth movement in the classic film “Cabaret” where the only individuals who refuse to be coerced and intimidated to rise and sing the Party anthem are several old men, veterans of the first World War? International today does not mean anything more than the participation of more than one nation in an organization or event. It does not convey the sense of solidarity across ethnic racial, sexual and linguistic barriers. The non-national International approach envisioned by Marx embodied in the communist anthem, the Internationale, with its call to build a world based one new foundations, had only a brief appeal prior to the First World War. The universal appeal of this internationalism was extinguished in the patriotic fervor unleashed in 1914.

Marxism’s answer to the ‘national question’ has been no less of a colossal failure. “Authentic internationalism” was not achieved within the international workers’ movements or within the multi-national states such as the USSR and the so called “People’s Democracies”. The Marxist dictum that each kilometer of railroad track and advance in technology would serve as a nail in the coffin of national differences and eventually eliminate all ethnic distinctiveness to forge a true international working class identity was utterly wrong. Marxist parties were always in doubt as to what degree of “national rights” of so called oppressed peoples could or should “postpone” the necessity of the class struggle.

Looking to Moscow for the answer provided only wild gyrations based on the security needs of the Soviet state as perceived by Stalin. At one time, the American Communist Party supported a separate Black state in the Deep South, encouraged Armenians abroad to immigrate to a “Soviet-Zion” state in Soviet Armenia, and even went on to propose the same “national solution” for both Jews all over the world and Finnish-Americans in the mid-1930s, promising them a “productive new life”, nationalist in form and socialist in content, with which they could construct a new existence in Birobidjan and in Soviet Karelia respectively.

A rebirth of intense ethnicity and territorial loyalty has occurred among all those groups that even in Marx’s time were considered to be on the road to assimilation in larger nationwide frameworks. The Basques, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenians, Irish, Scots, Welsh, Catalonians, Galicians, Croats, Slovaks, Maltese, Moldavians, Ukrainians, Finns, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians Georgians, French speaking Quebecois and the Jews who served as a model for Marx’s theory on assimilation were all supposed to lose their identity.

These “backward or “quaint” peoples of remote provinces would, according to Marxism, soon be brought into closer economic relationships with their national capitals in the states where they lived and through their participation in the economy, they would adopt the national standards of speech, dress, literacy and realize their common interests as workers.

The Jews and Their “Fossil-like Existence” Defy Marxist Theory

Instead, the need to win the loyalty of the masses often meant that the Communist Parties had to outdo the old prejudices and chauvinism of the reactionary parties. The Soviet Union under Stalin soon attacked the Jews whose assimilation was, according to Marxist theory, guaranteed since they lacked the two basic requirements for nationhood – a common language and territory. Labeled as “rootless cosmopolitans” for their very tendency to want to assimilate. Stalin even reversed the initial favorable attitude of Lenin towards Esperanto, the international language because its inventor, Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, was at one time a Zionist and believed that his international devised language should be cultivated to increase world-wide harmony and unity among the classes as well as the nations.

The Jews, because of their “fossil-like existence” – a non-territorial remnant of a pre-Christian and pre-modern era, particularly vexed and angered both Marx and Lenin. In act, their theories about the disappearance of the small provincial ethnic nationalisms of 19th century Europe could be put to a “litmus test” – the Jews, who should have been more ready, willing and able to participate in the new economy and lose their old tribal identity, becoming either workers or capitalists. The fact that they did not, so antagonized Marx, himself of Jewish descent, that he wrote a vicious pamphlet in 1843, ‘On The Jewish Question”, re-titled “World Without Jews” in English translation that has even been used by anti-Semites to back their views.

Marx’s attitude influenced Lenin and misled many Jews who were attracted to communism not so much because of their class interests as workers but in return for the promise of a world without nations. The great tragedy of Jewish self-delusions about the Bolshevik Party in Czarist Russia and the Soviet regime stemmed from the naive will to believe that such a world was possible in spite of the evidence everywhere the communists seized power, this ideology of a world without nations was shelved in order to win the support of the “masses” with their ingrained national (and religious) prejudices. Early measures in the 1920s designed to further Yiddish culture were brutally suppressed and thousands of Jewish idealists purged from the Party at the onset of the purges in the late 1930s.

Whenever the supposed international ideology of Marxism collided with the power interests of the USSR as in aid to the Spanish Republicans, the competition from Trotskyite and anarchist parties, the infamous Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, the Soviet invasion of Poland two weeks after the initial German assault unleashing World War II, the Soviet attack on Finland in December 1939, the imposition of brutal dictatorships across Eastern Europe following the end of the war in 1945, Marxist ideology was used as a screen to further the great power interests of the Soviet state utilizing Great-Russian chauvinism as an important motive force to further the standing of the Communist Party at home.

South Schleswig’s Naïve Idealists

Another case of idealist Marxists who, as many east European Jews, were high up on the “sucker” list of idealists hoodwinked by their ideological beliefs and would come to pay a heavy price for their theoretical support of Marxism was a substantial number of workers among the Danish ethnic minority in South Schleswig. In the plebiscite of 1920 they voted for inclusion in what they believed was a better choice to advance their interests as part of the working class, i.e. inclusion in a German democratic republic with a strong industrial base rather than a “return” to the pre-1864 boundary within the Danish monarchy, at the time, a largely agrarian nation.

The net result of their foolish vote by many south Schleswigers was to be forced for the second time within a generation to fight and die for a foreign cause of German aggression and expansionism including aggression against Denmark. Across the border in North Schleswig, Denmark, the working class voters who chose to return to their ancestral homeland in the 1920 plebiscite progressed much more rapidly in every measure of economic and social progress without regimentation and militarism.

The so called Marxist principle in the Soviet Union of “National in form Socialist in content” meant nothing more than a superficial tolerance of folk festivals featuring colorful costumes and songs and dances but not the cultivation of any serious literature or emotional identification with the cherished past of any of the 15 constituent Soviet Republics. The Karelo-Finnish Soviet Republic established after the victory in the Winter War in 1940 was abolished overnight by Party decree in 1956. It had never had more than a minority of 15% ethnic Karelian-Finns.

The Balance Sheet – A Huge Minus

While Marxism retains some validity as an analytical tool to examine and explain past economic development, it offers no guiding light to the future. Leninism as the way to seize power and create a classless society has been a failure on all fronts. There are undeniably many serious problems within the advanced capitalist societies yet the progress made by the working class there has far exceeded the dreams of those who only two and three generations ago believed that it was a doomed system. Marxism-Leninism, like the conspiracy theory to explain the Kennedy assassination, could only rely on myths, propaganda and the cultivation of mass appeal of envy towards those who are richer, more talented or more fortunate in life. In the end, it was the ideology that has ended up on the garbage can of history.

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