Was Karl Marx responsible for the horrors of Soviet communism?

  • September 15, 2013 · 1:30 PM
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Here’s a joke I heard years ago in the USSR… 

Soviet scientists have brought Karl Marx back to life.  The newly-resurrected Marx comes to the Soviet Union, observes what’s going on, and then comes to Central Television and asks for permission to give a one hour speech.  “Comrade Marx, we have the greatest respect for you,” – the people in charge of the Central TV tell him, “but please understand that we have central planning, and we cannot give you one hour just like that.  The plans for the TV programming are approved five years in advance, and any changes have to have special approval of the Central Committee.  You, of all people, should understand about central planning!”

Marx asks for half an hour, or at least ten minutes, or, at the very least, five minutes.  He keeps getting the same answer: “Sorry, due to central planning, it’s impossible”. 

Finally, after much pleading, Marx is allowed to say one sentence on TV.  He takes a microphone and, addressing the entire Soviet Union, says:  “Workers of the world, forgive me!”

Back in USSR, we could get into serious trouble for telling this joke!  We told it anyway. 

Jokes aside, let us ask a question:  Should Marx indeed have apologized to the workers of the world?  Are the ideas of Karl Marx responsible for the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and what followed:  millions of people killed, and millions more reduced to a grim existence?  Is Marxism responsible for purges of the thirties, the artificially created famine in the Ukraine, the Gulag and the horrors of day-to-day existence under totalitarianism?

For many people, the answer is an obvious “yes”.  Yet, many others believe that things are not so simple.  Karl Marx, these people argue, had good ideas, but they were misused and abused by the Bolsheviks.  Marx would never have recognized the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union as something he had advocated.

Let us have a respectful debate on the subject.   I hope people with different opinions come and present an argument for their point of view.  To keep the debate civil, let me briefly repeat the rules:

·  First and foremost, remember:  if a person doesn’t think like you, it does not mean s/he is a bad person.  Absolutely no ad hominem attacks will be tolerated.

·  Please, only one person speaks at a time.  I’ll make sure that everybody who has something to say will have a chance to say it.  Please, wait for your turn.

·  If you present something as a fact, be prepared to be questioned about the source of your information.  Of course, this does not apply to generally known facts (such as “the Bolshevik Revolution occurred on November 7, 1917”), but if you say “the Bolshevik Revolution was financed by Wall Street”, I or others may ask you where you got your information.

·  You cannot just say “This is not true”.  Instead, present a valid reason why you think it isn’t true.

·  Please, stay on topic.  It’s OK to draw parallels with what’s happening now (i.e., it’s OK to compare the Bolshevik Revolution to the Arab Spring), but limit this to making a comparison – do not change the subject to modern controversies.  This is a history meetup, and I’d like to keep it this way.

These rules aren’t unreasonable—and they’ve enabled our group to have productive discussions for 3 years now—a record I’m proud of. Let’s continue the tradition of meaningful, respectful discourse.

That’s it!  Please bring some snacks to share with your fellow intellectuals—the healthier, the better. To cover the cost of running this meetup, a donation of $2 is respectfully requested.

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  • Richard A. P.

    I apologize for not being able to attend this meet up "Karl Marx...Soviet communism", I will make every attempt to make it to "round 2" of this discussion. Based upon the conversation below it appears it was very interesting although no consensus has been reached, look forward to the "vote" next meeting.

    September 17, 2013

    • Alexandra

      Richard, I know you really wanted to attend. I'm sure that something urgent prevented you from attending.

      I hope you'll be able to come in October. However, if not - please change your RSPV to "no" as soon as you no you won't be coming. Thank you, Richard.

      September 17, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Gary,
    I really enjoyed your informed and nuanced c moments yesterday.

    September 16, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Laura, thank you for being so sweet. I would have considered it but then I just read the comment posted by Alexandra below, and think its best if I don't.

    September 16, 2013

  • Michael H.

    Partially: I was struck by the comment on Marx's antisemitism so immediately ran to Wikci which has a good discussion of the essay from 1844. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jewish_Question

    September 15, 2013

    • Alexandra

      Thank you, Michael. I'll look into it.

      September 16, 2013

  • Alexandra

    We have not reached a consensus (nobody is surprised, right?) So, we will be having round two in October. An official announcement will be coming soon.

    September 16, 2013

  • Jesse S.

    So did the group come to any consensus?

    September 16, 2013

    • Alexandra

      No, Jesse, the opinions are as divided at the end as they were in the beginning.

      September 16, 2013

  • Bronislav M.

    Interesting discussion. Very informative

    September 16, 2013

    • laura g b.

      Wendy, I hope you will come again; we need the input of intelligent women. If you knew Alex better, you would see she is the opposite of authoritarian--she just wants to keep the discussion about history and not about current events.

      1 · September 16, 2013

    • Alexandra

      Well, I have to be a bit authoritarian sometimes - otherwise, people will just highjack the topic and talk about their pet topic instead. Long timers will remember how one guy (now ex-member) highjacked the Voltaire and Russeau topic because he wanted to talk about something completely unrelated. Back then, I was a novice moderator and let him get away with that.

      I will not let it happen again.

      It is not my intent to please everybody. If you feel like having your own meetup, Wendy, where you'll talk about the latest articles in New York Times. I'll be more than happy to refer interested people to you.

      September 16, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Dont know if i will attend again. It was more like a claas with an authoritarian instuctor

    September 16, 2013

  • Gary H

    There are Jokes like this about Jesus of Nazareth. One is,
    "Jesus is coming, and he's pissed!"
    A joke I've heard about Karl Marx. "Marx would not be a Marxist."

    - Gary

    August 19, 2013

    • Alexandra

      I'm not sure about Marx not being a Marxist, but I'm positive that Jesus would not be a Christian (by "Christian" I mean typical Christians of today).

      September 12, 2013

  • Gary W

    I gave up my spot, one more waiting list person should be happy!

    September 11, 2013

  • Ursula

    Sorry to miss it, family obligation conflicts.

    September 10, 2013

  • Michael H.

    The Very Short Introductions from Oxford are very good-much better than taking on Capital- I read one on Marx and another on the Revolution. The other I am plowing thru is Orlando Figes A PEOPLES TRAGEDY-a fascinating in depth study.

    1 · September 9, 2013

  • ellen

    Alex....Definitely planning on being there Sun. Have missed this group the past few months.

    September 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Lived in a former Soviet republic last year and the year before

    September 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This should be really informative for me.

    September 9, 2013

  • Jesse S.

    I plan attend for the first time.

    September 9, 2013

  • Richard A. P.

    Gary, I couldn't agree more. The real challenge is the proceeding generations ability to "correct a wrong" and do the right thing.

    August 20, 2013

  • Gary H

    Throughout 1,000s of years of history, the prophet is often betrayed and codified into dogma by the first generation of followers. - Gary

    1 · August 20, 2013

  • Richard A. P.

    This subject I am excited about because I had an opportunity to study it in college in my senior year as a political science major. The subject was called "communism, difference between Soviet and Chinese". I believe if Karl Marx could have seen what was happening in the Soviet Union in the 20's,30's and 40's he would definitely say "I'm sorry". I look forward to this discussion.

    August 20, 2013

  • Gary H

    The KKK claimed to be Christian. That was my point. But it's all ironic because Jesus was a Jew. The followers became known as Christians.

    August 19, 2013

  • Gary H

    Who thought up this question?
    Is Jesus the Nazarene responsible for the KKK?
    No.
    But the context of the question should be interesting.
    What might have happened if (1) the Mensheviks won, (2) The USA and allies had not attacked or supported a counter revolution?
    - Gary

    August 19, 2013

    • Bronislav M.

      Was Adam Smith responsible for European Colonialism/Imperialism?­ Hmmm. Interesting topic. I hope I can make it

      August 19, 2013

    • Elan

      Alex- Yes, they certainly did.

      August 19, 2013

  • Sprite

    Away until Oct.

    August 19, 2013

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