The Marxist-Leninist
Theory of History

The crimes we shall expose are to be judged not by the standards of Communist regimes, but by the unwritten code of the natural laws of humanity.

Stéphane Courtois [The Black Book of Communism, Crimes, Terror, Repression, with Nicolas Werth, Jean-Jouis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartoshek, and Jean-Louis Margolin, translated by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer, Harvard University Press, 1999, p.3]

It is better to kill one hundred innocents than to let one guilty person go.

Dolores Ibarruri ("La Pasionaria"), Spanish Communist [ibid., p. 343]

We didn't kill enough people.... Revolutions succeed only when rivers run red with blood, and blood has to be spilled if what you are aiming for is the perfectibility of the human race.

Ares Velouchiotes, Greek Communist, [ibid., p. 329]

Die »Ausbeutung« gehört nicht einer verderbten oder unvollkommnen und primitiven Gesellschaft an: sie gehört in's Wesen des Lebendigen, als organische Grundfunktion, sie ist eine Folge des eigentlichen Willens zur Macht, der eben der Wille des Lebens ist. -- Gesetzt, dies ist als Theorie eine Neuerung, -- als Realität ist es das Ur-Faktum aller Geschichte.

"Exploitation" is not a part of a vicious or imperfect or primitive society: it belongs to the essence of living things, as a basic organic function, it is a consequence of the Will to Power which is the Will to Life. Admitted that this is a novelty as a theory -- as a reality it is the basic fact underlying all history.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan, Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.202, translation modified; Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.186; color added.

Communism is not a reaction against the failure of the nineteenth century to organize optimal economic output. It is a reaction against its comparative success. It is a protest against the emptiness of economic welfare, an appeal to the ascetic in us all... The idealistic youth play with Communism because it is the only spiritual appeal which feels to them contemporary.

John Maynard Keynes, 1934

Germany today is, next to Russia, the greatest exemplar of Marxian socialism in the world.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1936

It is no defence whatever for an intellectual to say that he was duped [by Communism], since that is what, as an intellectual, he should never allow to happen to him.

Granville Hicks

Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]

The almost universal disdain toward the middle class -- the bourgeoisie -- by those with cosmic visions can be more readily understood in light of the role of such visions as personal gratification and personal license. The middle classes have been classically people of rules, traditions, and self-discipline, to a far greater extent than the underclass below them or the wealthy and aristocratic classes above them. While the underclass pay the price of not having the self-discipline of the bourgeoisie -- in many ways, ranging from poverty to imprisonment -- the truly wealthy and powerful can often disregard the rules, including laws, without paying the consequences. Those with cosmic visions that seek escape from social constraints regarded as arbitrary, rather than inherent, tend to romanticize the unruliness of the underclass and the sense of being above the rules found among the elite.

Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice [The Free Press, 1999, pp. 139-140]

Many whose allegiance went to the Soviet Union may well be seen as traitors to their countries, and to the democratic culture. But their profounder fault was more basic still. Seeing themselves as independent brains, making their choices as thinking beings, they ignored their own criteria. They did not examine the multifarious evidence, already available in the 1930s, on the realities of the Communist regimes. That is to say, they were traitors to the human mind, to thought itself.

Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century [W.W. Norton & Compnay, 2000, p.118]

As an intellectual construct, Capital was a masterpiece. But, like some other intellectual masterpieces, it was an elaborately sophisticated structure erected on the foundation of a primitive misconception.

...In the realm of ideas in general, the Marxian vision -- including his theory of history -- has not only dominated various fields at various times, it has survived both the continuing prosperity of capitalism and the economic debacles of socialism. It has become axiomatic among sections of the intelligentsia, impervious to the corrosive effects of evidence or logic.

But what did Marx contribute to economics? Contributions depend not only on what was offered but also on what was accepted, and there is no major premise, doctrine, or tool of analysis in economics today that derived from the writings of Karl Marx. There is no need to deny that Marx was in many ways a major historic figure of the nineteenth century, whose long shadow still falls across the world of the twenty-first century. Yet, jarring as the phrase may be, from the standpoint of the economics profession Marx was, as Professor Paul Samuelson called him, "a minor post-Ricardian."

Thomas Sowell, On Classical Economics [Yale, 2006, p.184-186], boldface added

It deserves mention however that, as Joachim Reig has pointed out (in his Introduction to the Spanish translation of E. von Böhm-Bawerk's essay on Marx's theory of exploitation (1976)), it would seem that after learning of the works of Jevons and Menger [i.e. the "marginalist" revolution], Karl Marx himself completely abandoned further work on capital. If so, his followers were evidently not so wise as he.

F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, The Errors of Socialism [1988, The University of Chicago Press, 1989, 1991, p.150]

The destructive work of totalitarian machinery, whether or not this word is used, is usually supported by a special kind of primitive social philosophy.
Freedom from Fear, 1943, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), National Archives at College Park
It proclaims not only that the common good of 'society' has priority over the interests of individuals, but that the very existence of individuals as persons is reducible to the existence of the social 'whole'; in other words, personal existence is, in a strange sense, unreal. This is a convenient foundation for any ideology of slavery.

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), "Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie," Is God Happy? Selected Essays [Basic Books, 2013, p.57] (cf. Hegel on the ontological unreality of individuals)

That Marx is worth reading is certain. The question is, however, whether his theory truly explains anything in our world, and whether it provides grounds for any predictions. The answer is no. Another question is whether or not his theories were ever useful. Here the answer is, obviously, yes; they operated successfully as a set of dogmas that were supposed to justify and glorify communism and the slavery that inevitably goes with it.

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), "What is Left of Socialism?" Is God Happy? Selected Essays [Basic Books, 2013, p.64]

Sen. Jaime Quintana, a spokesman for [President] Ms. Bachelet's N[ew]M[ajority] coalition in the congressional upper chamber, explaining its scorch-earth approach. The NM he said, was determined to "destroy the antiquated foundations of the neo-liberal model of dictatorship," referring to the free-market economy designed during the years that Gen. Augusto Pinochet ruled the country.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady, "Chile's Socialists Take a Beating," The Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2016, A13 ; but Chile's voters, having foolishly elected a neo-socialist President, are now thinking better of it.

English Department Marxists see political economy as a morality tale. Capitalists are wicked. This is not Marxism. The form of economic activity in Marx is determined by the material conditions of production, regardless of the will, intentions, or goodness of the economic participants. Only when those conditions change can the mode of production change.

Τηλεπατητικός (Telepateticus)

Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.

Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography

Critical Race Theory is a clear and present danger to our American way of life and our Constitution. Don't take my word for it. Take the word of Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston Univerity.

Kendi has put a serious and troubling proposal on the table: "To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an 'anti-racist amendment' to the U.S. Constitution." Kendi's amendment would make "racial inequity" unconstitutional. It would enshrine as a constitutional principle, "Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy." In other words, if there are any differences in outcomes between any racial groups, that would be conclusive proof that racism is to blame. In Kendi's words, his amendment would:

...establish and permanently fund the Department of Antiracism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won't yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.

In other words, "trained experts on racism" like Ibram X. Kendi himself would have totalitarian power over every public agency, every public official, and every law. That is the ultimate goal of Wokeism in America...

And consider the ultimate goal of Ibram X. Kendi for his "Department of Anti-racism." He once said, "In order to truly be antiracist, you also have to truly be anti-capitalist."

Carlie Kirk, The College Scam, How America's Universities are bankrupting and brainwashing away the future of America's Youth, Winning Team Publishing, 2022, pp.177-178.

Kendi, , born Ibram Henry Rogers, obviously wants to create a communist dictatorship in America. That is what his "Department of Antiracism" would amount to. As with so much, the "antiracism" business is just a pretext for Marxist totalitarianism, a police state, and absolute power for the ruling class. Whatever goods a crushed economy might be able to produce would be seized by the government and "equitably" distributed to politically favored groups and elite individuals -- such as Kendi himself, who has already become rich. No proper Constitutional rights would be left for Americans. Since "DOA" has always meant "dead on arrival," Kendi's purpose is obviously to kill America, if not all Americans (or at least the white and Asian ones).

A Denver councilwoman caused a stir when she declared that white-owned businesses should pay reparations.

Candi CdeBaca, a 37-year-old Democratic Socialist who is facing a run-off election in June, told a business forum Thursday that white-owned businesses should pay an additional race-based tax, which would be given in turn as reparations to minority-owned businesses.

“Capitalism was built on stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen resources,” CdeBaca told the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, 9 News reported.

She said business improvement districts could levy the racial tax.

‘You could be collecting those extra taxes from white-led businesses all over the city and redistributing them to black and brown-owned businesses,” she said.

"Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca says white-owned businesses should pay reparations," The New York Post, May 6, 2023 -- since capital industry doesn't actually need to own land, and pays for labor and "resources," one wonders under what delusions Candi CdeBaca labors, or how "black and brown-owned businesses" are themselves free from the evils of captialism -- socialist governments obviously despise all small business. And she certainly doesn't understand anti-discrimination law.


Dante Allighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, III:9 ["Abandon every hope, you who enter"]

Prefatory Remark

It is a fundamental principle, if not an axiom, of Marxism that capital is a fiction and only exists as an illegitimate and parasitic phenomenon, which alienates from the workers part of the value created by labor. This is why Capitalism is called "Capitalism" and Marx's book about it Das Kapital.

However, Marx's own system contains a feature that can only be understood as reflecting the reality of capital. As Marx allowed, indeed celebrated, that over time the material conditions and modes of production change and improve, representing the economic progress of history, he overlooked the circumstance that this progress must then be ranked according to a system and scale of value. The quantity of labor may not change, but what it can produce, in quantity and quality, does. The ratio between quantity and quality of labor, or between the quantity of labor and the quantity of production, is called "productivity."

A dramatic example of this concerns agricultural labor and productivity in modern economies. In traditional societies, it takes from 85 to 90% of labor to produce enough food for all, including a surplus that supports the 10 to 15% of non-agricultural labor. This percentage persisted in some African countries who adopted socialist policies at independence, perhaps taking seriously the assertion of celebrated communist author Jack London that a worker who is more produtive than his fellows is already a "scab," i.e. strike-breaker -- neglecting that increased productivity is part of Marx's own theory.

In the United States, the percentage of the population that was in farm labor dropped below 50% by 1880, and the percentage of the population that was rural dropped below 50% by 1920. Farm labor was down to 27% by 1920, 21% by 1930, 17% by 1940, 12% by 1950, 6% by 1960, 3% by 1970, and only 2% by 1980. In other words, there was a trend; and the trend was that agriculture became more capital intensive. One person driving a combine, which harvests, threshes, and bundles wheat, can do in a day what it used to take a vast workforce to do less quickly. Seasonal workers are still needed to harvest certain things, like fragile fruit -- but "smart" mechanical pickers will soon be able to do this.

Thus, the vast number of Egyptian masons and other laborers (including unskilled peasants drafted into the corvée during the season of the Flood) who could produce a pyramid, an essentially (socially) useless object, would now be put to better use producing the consumer and capital goods of an industrial economy. The difference in productivity between the pyramid builders and automobile makers is covered by Marx with a version of Hegel's dialectic, which is supposed to produce ever more complex and sophisticated structures with each iteration. Be that as it may, this effectively introduces a new variable into the equation of value. A quantity of automobile labor differs in a different dimension of value from an equal quantity of pyramid labor. Nothing prevents Marx from identifying such a scale in the dimension of dialectical progression. However, there is already a name for such a scale of value:  It is the value of capital, including human capital.

Pyramid building is labor intensive production, while automobile building is capital intensive production. Capital intensive production requires skills and knowledge, whose fruits may be effected by the industrial workers, but which may only be conceived and held systematically in the consciousness of the industralist, i.e. the Henry Ford. Yet even the level of capital development represented by pyramid building, whose products remain marvels of human achievement (at least for their audacity, scale, technical achievement, and durability -- not unlike the Eiffel Tower), is historically credited to one genius, the semi-divine III Dynasty architect , Imhotep.

Marx's denial of the existence and necessity of capital means that his own theory is incoherent, since it denies but does actually contain a scale of value, which we can now recognize as that of capital, to explain improved modes of production, increased productivity, and more technologically and aesthetically sophisticated products. His entire theory of the historical dialectic of class struggle depends on this, and yet it is simultaneously refuted by it.

In order to disparage the success of capitalism, modern Marxists are reduced to anhedonic and anaesthetic condemnations of "consumerism," recycling moralistic arguments originated by Plato. In other words, Marx, who appreciated that industrial workers were better off than peasants, now inspires people who want the "masses" returned to agriculture, perhaps so that the limos of the elite, e.g. Al Gore, will not get caught in traffic.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) did not have a theory of morality; he had a theory of history. Thus, Marxism was not about right or wrong but about what will happen in history. Marx was contemptuous of people who judged things in moral terms -- that is a phenomenon of "bourgeois" consciousness.

When diehards say that Marxism has actually never been "tried" (despite what Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ho, and Daniel Ortega thought they were doing), they don't understand that Marxism was not a rule for behavior or a program for action; it was supposed to be the theory of a deterministic mechanism that will produce the future, a theory of actions that will arise spontaneously because of historical circumstances -- although we can infer what kinds of actions people, including ourselves, will be taking -- after all, Marx said that the purpose of his work was to change the world, not just understand it.

It is the theory, however, that the world will change because of the objective economic conditions, not because of some decisions we make. This was not a theory about "human nature" or "human psychology," but about how the mode of economic production (how goods and services are produced) determines all the other political, social, cultural, and moral structures of a society (though some Marxists are uncomfortable with this in an absolute sense).

The needs of the "English petty bourgeois" are thus not "false needs", however dismissive Marx may sound, but true needs in relation to a capitalistic mode of production -- needs which will change over time, in a historicist sense, as the mode of production changes. As a "science" of history, Marxism would succeed or fail to the extent that it could actually predict the evolution of production and its various effects [note].

Marx thought that as capitalism had replaced feudalism with a new mode of production, which was more productive and efficient, the same thing would happen to produce a replacement for capitalism. In the end, as the workers were impoverished (when capitalists drove down wages) and the number of capitalists dwindled (as competition was replaced by larger and larger monopolies), the capitalists would end up with no one to sell their goods to and nothing to do with the capital derived from their profits. This would produce increasingly severe credit and banking crises, until the proletariat would easily tip over the whole rotten structure and replace it with a classless society.

Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. [Capital, Vol. I, p.837, Charles H. Kerr & Co., Chicago, 1906, translation by Edward Aveling, quoted by Thomas Sowell, On Classical Economics, Yale, 2006, p.170]

Already in this we find the essence of the fallacy of Marxist economics. Marx believes that as the dialectic of history evolves new modes of production, greater productivity and greater wealth will be created, ultimately eliminating the need for alienated and exploited labor. However, there is not a variable in Marxist value theory to account for greater productivity. If labor (or "socialy necessary" labor) creates value, then a greater quantity of labor will create greater value, but only in quantity, not in kind. More labor for pyramid building just builds more pyramids.

Thus, some other variable is involved besides labor. In fact, that is capital. Labor intensive production gives way to capital intensive production, and greater capital means great productivity, not just in quantity, but in kind. But Marx does not believe that capital exists, which is why capitalism is called "capitalism." This means that Marxism cannot explain increased productivity.

And then Marxism also contains another trend disparaging to productivity as such. Jack London, less well remembered now as a communist than as an author, said that a worker who is more productive than others "is already a scab," i.e. a strike breaker. Thus, the view seems to be that increases in productivity are part of the exploitation of labor.

Unfortunately, without such increases, 90% of labor would still be involved in agricultural production, while in the United States that is now less than 2% of labor, the rest of which goes into producing other things. Those "other things" are what pose the problem for an economic system like Marxism.

Since British industry was largely involved in building railroads in Marx's day, he seems to have actually believed that, once the railroads were built, there would be nothing for that workforce, or its capital, to do.

But this is the key to the whole meaning of capital. Capital is knowledge. Capital is imagination. Capital investment may be thought of as the construction of machinery, but the machinery, with its use and purpose, must first be conceived. The new purposes require that new products be thought of. But then with the conception of new products, new uses, and new purposes, the machinery may only be one element, or no element, in it.

Simply a different way of doing things represents new knowledge and new capital. Thus, we have idea in modern economics of "human capital," where some people simply know how to do things better than others. Also, the value of capital can simply evaporate in misconceived investments. "What is sunk is sunk," is the principle:  bad investments, into which capital has been sunk, must at some point be written off. It is "sunk."

Marx's thesis of the fictional nature of capital is thus equivalent to his lack of imagination regarding what it would be possible for people to do with their capital. That entirely new products and industries could be conjured up, to be brought to life with capital investment, was a process that was simply off the radar of Marxist economics. Perhaps he thought that the unexploited workers would sit down one day and simply begin producing cell phones, with the conception perhaps spontaneously coughed up by the Hegelian dialectic.

Grimes, Claire Elise Boucher (b.1988)
Since Marx was the kind of person who would never know what to do with capital, he did not believe there was anything to do with it. This is a common state of mind, and it is still about the level of economic understanding of much modern political discourse. It is worse with human capital.

The tradition of many people, often ethnic minorities, in starting and running small businesses, which represents a profound body of knowledge, more easily learned at one's mother's knee, next to the cash register, than even in business school, elicits from the Marxist only suspicion, condemnation, and hatred.

The people who typically run small businesses, we know, like the Jews, together with the Chinese in Southeast Asia, Indians in Africa (or the neighborhood Seven Eleven), or Koreans in Harlem, are simply engaged in small scale capitalist exploitation -- they are the "petty bourgeoisie" who will be eaten up by growing monopolies. For the enlightened, the bien pensants, they merit only contempt. The idea that they are the source, not only of economic success for minorities or individuals, but of revolutions in production for the economy as a whole, where both the Ford Motor Company and Apple Computer started in someone's garage, is only met with dumb incomprehension and incredulity -- even from people whose own family, as with many Jews, contains just such a history of innovation and success from small roots.

The hatred of entrepreneurial ethnic groups is not just a matter of fulminating academics. It is a matter of violence. Jews, Chinese, Indians, and others have been attacked by resentful mobs, who could only believe, and were often only told, that the success of these people is because of theft and cheating. Not just ignorant mobs, but educated intellectuals can't understand how wealth can increase among these groups unless it has been stolen. Attacks on Jews, all across Europe, are familiar. That the Chinese were periodically attacked and ejected from the Philippines is less well known, or how ethnic Chinese were attacked in Indonesia in 1998; but many will remember when people from India were expelled from Uganda in 1972. It also was not long ago that Korean businesses were attacked and looted in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots of 1992. The result of all this violence, of course, has often been a collapse of the local economy into poverty. The Spanish needed to keep inviting the Chinese back to the Philippines. In Europe, we can always note the countries where the Rothschilds ended up welcome and flourishing. That did not include Poland after World War II, where neither Jews nor entrepreneurs were welcome under Communism.

Thus, since Marx did not believe in capital and did not understand the sources of innovation and invention, the elimination of small business and small entrepreneurs by monopoly capital was not only expected but was regarded as a desireable feature of the process. With surviving employed labor concentrated in large corporate entities, and the capitalists left with nothing to do with their capital and few consumers with the means to purchase capitalist production (given vast unemployment and employed workers paid only subsistence wages), the revolution would more or less happen of itself when the system collapsed in a panic of banks and investors. History would thus flow in the following way:

However, although nominal wages were falling in the United States from 1865-1897, apparently in line with Marxist expectations, real wages were actually rising, and there didn't seem to be a problem with over-production or with capital investment. Marx's own data showed rising real wages, as in Britain they rose by 80 percent in the last half of the 19th century.

Recognizing that things weren't going as predicted, Lenin (Vladimir Ulyanov, 1870-1924) proposed that colonialism and imperialism were relieving the stress on capitalism and had temporarily derailed history: Colonies were a safety valve for excess capital and over-production; and the exploitation of colonies enabled the capitalists to buy off the proletariat at home. But Lenin's own data showed that most foreign investment was in other capitalist countries, and it is hard to imagine how an impoverished colonial population could buy things that the proletariat back home couldn't afford. Nevertheless, Lenin's theory at least addressed the issue. He therefore saw the flow of history in these terms:

When the Russian Revolution came, Lenin and his colleagues had to address the paradox that according to orthodox Marxism Russia was not ready for a real communist revolution, since it had never passed through the necessary stage of capitalism itself. Although developing quickly enough, and the fourth largest economy in the world in 1914 just because of its size (it had been the largest through much of the 19th century), Russia was still largely a feudal society.

Lenin died before much sense could be made of the situation, especially when his programs caused the economy to collapse and he had to retreat from an attempt at pure Communism into the semi-market economy of the New Economic Policy (the NEP). Subsequently, Stalin (Iosif Dzhugashvili, 1879-1953) followed the principle that the Russian Revolution would substitute a benign replacement for capitalism, namely "socialism," which would do the same job of industrialization without capitalist exploitation. Meanwhile, the new Russian state, the Soviet Union, would fight against imperialism and work for de-colonization and national liberation. If imperialism and colonialism could be ended, then capitalist economies would revert to the dynamic described by Marx and communism would develop there in the natural way. Stalin thus saw the flow of history in this way:

With the Great Depression, which looked like just the sort of credit and production collapse that Marx had predicted, and which gave many Westerners the impression that Stalin's programs were producing better results in the Soviet Union, things seemed to be getting back on track. Then, when capitalist countries joined in to help defeat what should have been their own best hope, fascism, things really started looking up [note].

The post-war world then began to see the start of de-colonization. For fear of "neo-colonialism," newly independent countries were advised to nationalize foreign holdings and limit capitalist exploitation (i.e. foreign investment). Stalin's Five Year Plans were seen by people like the new Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), as the proper way to modernize an economy.

Over the years, however, the countries that took this kind of advice the most seriously experienced only failure and stagnation. Nehru's great plans in fact condemned India to many decades of little improvement in its standard of living. But India was in good shape compared to Africa.

By the late 80's, most former African colonies had lapsed into military dictatorships under which the standard of living was actually lower than it had been when they were colonies. All the modernistic and socialistic rhetoric of the original leaders of African independence, like Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) in Ghana, had turned out to be nothing but a mask for incompetence, corruption, and naked power.

Instead of foreign investment, African leaders demanded foreign aid delivered directly to them. Most of that was either wasted on useless projects or diverted into their own pockets:  leading to the bitter characterization of them as "Swiss bank account socialists."

Meanwhile, the once admired economy of the Soviet Union showed what it was truly made of: corruption, inefficiency, and irrationality on a vast scale. Although everyone expected that the Soviet Union's own economic statistics were unreliable, even the CIA greatly overestimated the size of the Soviet economy -- today one even hears the accusation that they did this deliberately to magnify the Soviet threat and perpetuate the Cold War (pursuant to the bureaucratic self-interest of the CIA -- which means that such an accusation could originate either from attacks on capitalism or simply from attacks on big government and bureaucracy).

Outside of Moscow and Leningrad, which were bad enough, the Soviet Union was virtually a Third World country. One result today is that many who still admire Marxism and socialism have decided that it is virtuous to be poor, and that the ruined and miserable economy of a place like Cuba is a desirable "ecotopia" -- kinder to the environment than capitalism.

This would be profoundly astonishing and mortifying to Karl Marx himself:  the whole point about the evolution of communism is that it would be more productive and produce greater wealth for all than capitalism. A socialism that simply perpetuated poverty would be worthless -- a return, indeed, to what Marx called "oriental" despotism and a slave economy. Yet, as I have noted, it is the inevitable logical consequent of the denial of the existence of capital that the means of the development of greater production and greater wealth would themselves be destroyed. The fate of Marxist economies demonstrates this beyond a doubt.

At telling moment came in 1989, when Boris Yeltsin, Борис Ельцин (1931-2007), who had been the equivalent of the Mayor of Moscow, 1985-1987, and would later be first President of the post-Soviet Russia, visited the United States. Of his visit to a supermarket in Houston, he later wrote:

When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.

In the market Yeltsin was especially intrigued by the Pudding Pops. He was not deceived by accusations of "consumerism." He knew that communism was supposed to be more productive than capitalism. But there was nothing like the Texas supermarket in the Soviet Union.

Why this all happened goes back to the simplest principles of economics: it was Adam Smith, not Karl Marx, who understood the mechanism of history.

American Communists
Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961); CP member and pro-Soviet spy, 1925-1938; debriefed by State Department in 1939, exposed Alger Hiss as Communist and Soviet agent, not believed; testified and produced evidence of Hiss spying to HUAC, 1948. Never forgiven by Communist-tolerant Democrats.Gus Hall (1910-2000); General Secretary CPUSA, 1959-2000; CP Presidential Candidate, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984; broke with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, purged the CP of Gorbachev supporters, including Angela Davis, previously his VP candidate, 1980, 1984. Criticized for living comfortable "bourgeois" lifestyle.Ed Asner (1929-2021). Beloved actor, not formally ever a member of the CP, but of its near equivalent, the "Democratic Socialists of America," which is "democratic" only the way East Germany was supposed to be "democratic"; conistently supported Cuba and other Communist dictatorships.

The Soho Forum Debate: Wolff v. Epstein

The Fairest of Them All, by Maria Tatar, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2020

The Hegelian Sublime and Revolutionary Slaughter of Slavoj Žižek

Gentlemen and the Working Class

Capitalism, the Free Market, and the Obligations of Property and Contract

The Essential Anti-Communist Bibliography

The Post-Modern or "Leftover" Left

Burning Money, The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld, by C. Fred Blake, University of Hawai'i Press, 2011

Political Economy

History of Philosophy

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021, 2022, 2023 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Marxist-Leninist Theory of History, Note 1

"Human nature," "human psychology," and "false needs" are quotes from the ethics textbook I have used, Moral Reasoning, by Victor Grassian [p.59]. Grassian seriously misunderstands Marx, where human nature in an important sense doesn't even exist, and human psychology will be no more than a function of the "objective conditions" of production.

The idea of "false needs" is not to be confused with "false consciousness," which is when someone who is not a member of an oppressor class is deceived into having the views of that class. Thus a wage laborer who believes in the free market is afflicted with "false consciousness." According to Marxism, such beliefs need not be credited or addressed on their own merits, which of course logically leads, as it did in historical fact, to a totalitarian dictatorship where the views of people are irrelevant next to the "scientific" knowledge of the dictators.

Return to text

The Marxist-Leninist Theory of History, Note 2

Although communists liked to see fascism as the ultimate expression of capitalism, and fascism did nominally leave property in private hands, fascism and communism nevertheless had more in common with each other than with capitalism, since each was a collectivist ideology that subordinated individual interests to the purposes of the State. It was no coincidence that both Hitler and Mussolini came out of the socialist movement, and Lenin himself had praised Mussolini as the great champion of the Italian socialist party in the days before World War I. Later, Hitler's own best role model for ruthless police state power was Lenin. Both communists and fascists knew that the opposite of both ideologies was the despised "liberalism."

The Fallacy of Moralistic Relativism

Return to text

The Soho Forum Debate:
Richard Wolff v. Gene Epstein

As an intellectual construct, Capital was a masterpiece. But, like some other intellectual masterpieces, it was an elaborately sophisticated structure erected on the foundation of a primitive misconception.

...In the realm of ideas in general, the Marxian vision -- including his theory of history -- has not only dominated various fields at various times, it has survived both the continuing prosperity of capitalism and the economic debacles of socialism. It has become axiomatic among sections of the intelligentsia, impervious to the corrosive effects of evidence or logic.

But what did Marx contribute to economics? Contributions depend not only on what was offered but also on what was accepted, and there is no major premise, doctrine, or tool of analysis in economics today that derived from the writings of Karl Marx. There is no need to deny that Marx was in many ways a major historic figure of the nineteenth century, whose long shadow still falls across the world of the twenty-first century. Yet, jarring as the phrase may be, from the standpoint of the economics profession Marx was, as Professor Paul Samuelson called him, "a minor post-Ricardian."

Thomas Sowell, On Classical Economics [Yale, 2006, p.184-186], boldface added

On November 5, 2019, the Soho Forum held a debate, based on the resolution:

Socialism is preferable to capitalism as an economic system that promotes freedom, equality, and prosperity.

For the affirmative:

Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. Currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City. Wolff holds a PhD in economics from Yale University. Recent books, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism [Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2012], Capitalism's Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown [Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2016], Understanding Marxism [Democracy at Work, New York, 2019].

For the negative:

Gene Epstein, recently stepped down from a 26-year stint as Economics and Books Editor of Barron's magazine, with plans to write long-form articles and books. His last published book was Econospinning: How to Read between the Lines when the Media Manipulate the Numbers. He has taught economics at the City University of New York and St. John’s University, and worked as a senior economist for the New York Stock Exchange. He is Executive Director and moderator of the Soho Forum, and also an occasional debater.

The debate was held at the Eisner & Lubin Auditorium, at the New York University Kimmel Center, on Washington Square, New York City. This is not the usual venue for the Soho Forum, but apparently was chosen in anticpation of the size of the audience, which seemed to contain many NYU students. The event, indeed, looked all but sold out.
Grimes, Claire Elise Boucher (b.1988)
Since Epstein was one of the debaters, the event was moderated by Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine. Each debater was allow to give initial presentations, negative following affirmative, and then rebuttal presentations. After some audience (off-the-wall) questions, each debater gave a summary, affirmative before negative.

The Soho Forum does "Oxford Style" debates, which means the winner is the one who changes the preferences of the audience the most. In those terms, Epstein won the debate easily. Before the debate, the audience votes their prefernces on line. Thus, 25% were in favor of the resolution, 49.5% were opposed. This surprised me given the audience at NYU, although not in terms of regular attendees at Forum events. After the debate, the preferences were 24.5% in favor of the resolution, 71% oppossed. This also surprised me, since I thought that Epstein let Wolff get away with a number of points unchallenged. But Wolff actually lost votes.

I attended the debate and am concerned about what Epstein missed and what was not said. Thus Wolff began his presentation with complaints about what is wrong with capitalism. A prime issue was that capitalism is "unstable," which means that the "business cycle" involves economic distruption and putting people out of work. Epstein never responded to this, although I think he did quote Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) at one point that capitalism involves "creative destruction." But that was not specific or explanatory enough. What the business cycle eliminates are businesses that have failed or are uneconomical, along with bad investments and bad loans. All of these need to be eliminated, and a problem in recent history has been attempts to save failed businesses and protect bad investments.

Japan has damaged its entire economy for decades now by sustaining "zombie" businesses, which should have been bankrupted and closed years ago. Similarly, the "great recession" created a category of businesses "too big to fail," which were bailed out, against the wishes of the public, the anti-business Left, and the free market Right -- an extraordinary development that leaves one wondering who motivated the power to do that, if neither the public, the Left, nor the Right wanted it? And when bond holders of General Motors were stiffed, despite the guanantees on their bonds, President Obama dismissed them as "speculators" -- before it turned out that police, fire, and other public employee (i.e. sainted groups to statists) pension funds were relying on those bonds. "Too big to fail" turned out to be naked, special interest politics, designed to protect the guilty, including labor unions, or at least the failing, from the consequences of their conduct.

While Wolff complained that people lose their jobs in recessions or depressions, it is not clear that he would really want those who work in obsolete industries to retain their jobs. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has been trying to put out of work the people in the horse drawn carriage business in New York. Yet the actual horse industry, which use to involve all land transport, until replaced by railroads and automobiles, has almost entirely vanished. It is now just a matter of sport and entertainment. Nor do people miss the horse droppings on New York streets, with their attendant smell and disease. When the railroads changed from steam to diesel or electricity, the firemen, who shoveled coal to the engines, didn't want to lose their jobs. The unions got them kept on for a while, a practice called "featherbedding," since the firemen really had nothing to do but sleep on the job. Earlier, brakemen, who used to run along the tops of trains putting on the brakes of individual cars, were eventually replaced by pneumatic brakes. Since a lot of brakemen were killed doing their jobs, it is hard to see how the elimination of the practice was really a negative. But they, and the firemen, and the people working in stables, did need to find different jobs. Their dilemma would be no different under socialism, if technological progress were allowed to happen.

Since, without interventions, businesses, investments, and loans fail to an extent all the time, the "business cycle" is properly just the result of waves of failure naturally and periodically reinforcing each other, just as water waves in the ocean occasionally create extreme waves and troughs in the water. If allowed to heal on their own, such things pass quickly. Thus, unemployment in 1921 was 11.7%, after a post-War recession, an alarming level. But by 1923 it was back down to 2.4%, a level that now appears incredible and, indeed, is no longer thought possible [Richard K. Vedder & Lowell E. Gallaway, Out of Work, Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, Holmes & Meier, 1993, Independent Institute Book, 1997]. "Full employment" is thought to be about 4% unemployment, much of which is "frictional," i.e. people changing jobs.

But, not only can failure be protected through political intervention, the business cycle can be made worse, as downturns can be prolonged, with interventions. Thus, the 1929 Stock Market crash was made worse by encouraging people to buy "on margin," i.e. without the money in hand for the purchase. But by 1930 the economy was healing, until the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs were passed, which caused a new spike in unemployment within no more than three months -- i.e., unemployment went from about 6% in October 1930, to about 14% by December -- the true beginning of the Great Depression. On top of that, banks had been encouraged to extend themselves on loans, confident that the new Federal Reserve System would back them up in a credit collapse. But when the banks got in trouble, they were not backed up. And many banks were even more vulnerable in part because States prohibited branch banking, which kept local banks small, with limited resources. Hundreds of banks failed -- contrasted with very few failing, for instance, in Canada. But this was all a kind of regulatory "bait and switch." The Federal Reserve didn't do what it was created to do, and the devices, like the suspension of cash payments, that protected banks in the 1908 Panic, were not allowed. Also, the Federal Reserve prohibited the use of bank reserves, which were created and used as a buffer against credit collapses, and whose requirements had been lowered in the 1920's (on the expectation that the Federal Reserve made them less necessary). So, it turned out, reserves would only be used to compensate owners of the banks, not depositors. This means, note, that the Federal Reserve, although not protecting the banks form unecessary failure, decided to protect their owners more than the public. This seems very confused -- something I cannot imagine Benjamin Strong (1872-1928) supporting -- his death at only 55 seems to have doomed the System.

The failures of the banking system and the Federal Reserve owed little to "capitalism," and a lot to people trying to "fix" what they thought were problems with capitalism, like the business cycle. But the "fixes" made things worse, a lot worse. Similarly with the "great recession" of 2008. Wolff mentioned this in particular. But the housing mortgage collapse and crisis was entirely the result of government intervention. If banks were not making "enough" loans to minorites, they were threatened with civil rights prosecution, even if the minorities did not qualify for loans. If Republicans, or anyone, raised doubts about this, they were accused of not caring about minorities, and/or being racists. So, being typical cowardly Republicans, they backed off.

When the collapse came, banks were then accused of "predatory lending," which never even made any sense. Banks got stuck with forfeited and abandoned properties, which sometimes had to be left as total losses. Abandoned housing projects could be used, and destroyed, as movie sets. This didn't benefit anyone. Certainly not the banks, or the minorities with "underwater" loans (i.e. loans worth more than the property that collateralized them). Yet the generally successful political narrative was that the banks were at fault. Richard Wolff obviously relied on this for his reference. It was the fault of capitalism, not of lying and grandstanding politicians. Thus, Representive Barney Frank, shown a video of himself saying that the whole mortgage system was sound, simply denied that he said any such thing. After just being shown that he had said it. But the Left gets away with it. A shameless and blatant lie, after all, shows your political power, which we know from academic "Theory," and from Friedrich Nietzsche and Lord Voldemort, is what really exists, rather than truth.

Everything that was done as a remedy to the Great Depression only served to prolong it, and initially even to help create it. The blame is to be shared by both Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt -- both accepting a "demand side" economics that contradicted Say's Law. In 2008 and afterwards, the Federal Reserve was still accepting demand side economics, in a form of the popular Keynesian version, already discredited by the "stagflation" of the 1970's. But the device of creating problems by government intervention and then blaming it on "capitalism" is an easily repeated, and often repeated, strategy. When the recovery after 2008, under the Obama Administration, was the slowest on record, with increasingly low labor force participation concealing high unemployment -- i.e. people were simply out of the work force -- learned opinion on television was often that rapid growth, job creation, and prosperity would never return (even while in some years half the jobs in the United States were created in growing and prospering Texas). The U.S. economy has reached a "secular stagnation," with high growth no longer possible. When Donald Trump got the economy going again, with historic lows of (post-War) unemployment, the take away lesson is that both Roosevelt and Obama had simply implemented policies that were hostile to capital. That is the general problem with Leftist politics. Marx denied that capital exists, and this is the principle of "progressive" programs ever since.

With Richard Wolff, it was not always clear that he was hostile to capital, but the implication was strongly there. It may have been concealed by his apparent concession that banks, loans, and, obviously, money would still exist under his "socialism." One would think that a proper Marxist would be expecting, like the newly victorious Lenin, that these would all be abolished. Wolff's concession, however, amounted to less than it might seem.

Wolff's principal pitch was the control of companies by their workers. He seems to think that this is the essence of Marxism. Perhaps this is what people I used to know in the Communist Party (the CPUSA) called "workers' democracy"; and Wolff, indeed, used the term "democracy" a lot for his proposal. However, this may have been a very weak point for the audience, since Gene Epstein simply pointed out, repeatedly, that there is nothing to stop workers from owning and controling their own businesses under capitalism. It happens. And Wolff himself cited successful co-ops, collectives, and worker owned businesses. If these are possible, and exist, what then is his problem? This may have been Epstein's most powerful rebuttal, and he drove home the point forcefully, warmly endorsing the very idea. Did that make Epstein a "socialist"? Probably not.

But certain things went unsaid. Wolff never mentioned something that is certainly part of his program, namely that the ownership and control of all companies will be vested in their workers. There will be no private ownership and no private owners simply hiring people to work for them. If allowed, this would violate the basis of Wolff's argument for "workers' democracy," which was that capitalism allows for undemocratic "bosses" to order workers around. If that is his complaint, against "bosses," then clearly he is not going to allow for companies that are not run by their workers -- certainly not to allow such companies to compete against collectives, etc., both in the consumer market-place and in the preferences of workers looking for a job.

And, oh, by the way, Wollf did mention that you will not be "looking for a job" in his system. You will be assigned to a job by a labor resources managing authority, when a company requests workers and is authorized to receive them. This is clearly part of Wolff's idea of "democracy." He mentioned this more than once, that labor will be assigned by an agency. If this is "democracy," then "democracy" does not involve the freedom to determine where one will work.

If it had come up in the debate that merely hiring workers will not be allowed, it could have led off into interesting directions. Thus, the experience of worker owned businesses has not always been good. Lenin himself discovered that Russian businesses collapsed quickly when he abolished "bosses," i.e. both owners and managers. Lenin decided that managers were necessary, and consequently the Soviet Union acquired a managerial class that it never lost. Unfortunately, the managers were neither owners nor agents of owners, e.g. stockholders, which meant that they represented merely another level of Soviet bureaucracy. Wolff supposedly rejects the Soviet model of "state capitalism," but he did not deal with the problem that managers might be necessary for businesses, and where they would come from.

This bears on a point that came up in the debate. Wolff's "workers' democracy" would involve a lot of meetings and a lot of decisions by the worker/owners of businesses. Epstein pointed out that a lot of time would be involved in this model; and it is very possible that, not only would more time be involved than the workers might want to devote to it, but it could easily involve more time than is available in the 24 hour day. We even find Oscar Wilde making a contribution in this issue, saying, "The trouble with socialism is that it would take too many evenings." He could well have been talking about Wolff's model.

Wolff's reponse to that was not that his meetings couldn't possibly eat up all the leisure time of the workers, or all the time in the day, but that, somehow, this was just an excuse to dismiss "democracy." That was not, of course, a responsive rebuttal. Nor did either Wolff or Epstein mention the obvious way for the workers to avoid taking "too many evenings," which would be by hiring managers. But the managers would be professionals, and they would be part of a managerial market. They might end up getting paid more than a lot of the workers. Socialists are not going to like that. And the managers will, indeed, act like "bosses"; or their expertise will be useless. Even worse, perhaps, is it the precedent that they would be hired labor? In a system where hired labor may actually be illegal, this would be a catastrophic exception.

For a while United Airlines was owned by its workers. The owner/workers (who were actually called something of the sort when I would telephone for reservations), naturally, hired management, so that managerial decisions wouldn't take up the time of the workers and could be made by experts. But then some of the workers seemed to think that the managers were "bosses" and were making decisons they didn't like. So the United pilots union went on strike against the company that supposedly they owned themselves. And they pushed the company into bankruptcy (as unions had done years earlier to Eastern Airlines -- or, more recently, to Hostess Foods, makers of the iconic Twinkie). The worker/owners lost their own company, and, as it happens, their pensions. So the "bosses" may have known what they were doing, while the pilots didn't. United Airlines is now publicly owned, as previously.

Epstein missed giving a key response to Wolff's complaint about "bosses" in capitalism. The alternative of having a boss is for workers to start their own businesses and be their own bosses. This is what Sinbad tells Beldar Conehead, who takes his advice. And it is not just in the movies. Epstein might have told Wolff that every successful and prosperous ethnic group in American history has been entrepreneurial and has started its own businesses. This includes Jews, Chinese, and Japanese Americans, whose early successful businesses have often become most familiar in American history, with Jews in the clothing industry (creating the whole existence of ready-to-wear, off-the-rack clothing), Chinese running laundries and restaurants, and Japanese truck farmers and gardiners in Los Angeles -- before they were forced to sell out, at grave losses, when interned (by Earl Warren and Franklin Roosevelt) during World War II -- although few remained poor for long after the War [cf. Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell, Basic Books, 1981].

Later successul ethnic arrivals have been Koreans, Vietnamese, Cubans, Nigerians, and, most particularly, people from India [cf. The Triple Package, Amy Chua & Jed Rubenfeld, Penguin, 2015]. When I first encountered a motel owned by people from India in Artesia, New Mexico, in 1982, I had not heard the saying, "Hotel, motel, Patel []," which describes the investment of Indians in the hotel industry. For a while in Los Angeles, doughnut stores were disproportionately run by people from Cambodia, of all things. Today, people from India and East Asia are so successful, not just in business but in academics, that American universities discriminate against them with the same sophistries and quotas that they used to use against Jews before World War II.

A federal judge, the corrupt and dishonest, ἀνάξιος (unworthy), Allison Burroughs, recently allowed Harvard, which itself had once had Jewish quotas, to now continue this disgraceful and, as it happens, illegal practice against Asians, contributing her own sophistries and prejudices to the matter. Thus Burroughs accepted the claim of Harvard that the social skills and "likability" of Asian applicants were below those of other students, and she actually opined that their social skills (like those of Jews in the 1930's!) suffered because of their disproportionate application to academic achievement. In this, the judge ignored the evidence in the case, which was that Harvard had altered the interview evaluations of the applicants to make them less "likable." The judge therefore helped perpetrate a fraud of whose character she was supposed to be aware. This discredits her entire ruling, if not her entire professional and moral character.

But we know what the ruling class wants when news stories about the judgment ignore Asians (i.e. implicitly wanting them to be "invisible") and say that Borroughs simply upheld "affirmative action." None of this about successful ethnic minorities came up in the Soho Forum debate (I guess they remain "invisible," except to anti-Semites), yet it creates serious problems for Wolff's complaints and proposals.

If the way to "be your own boss" is to start your own business, the last thing you would want is for the kid you hire to work in the stockroom to have equal ownership and equal say in your business. They probably know nothing at all about your business, and there is no reason why they should have any particular say in it. But Wolff would probably prohibit your hiring a "wage-slave," although, as noted, this issue was not explicitly raised in the debate -- and, if raised, ethnic minorities would come back in again, since part of their historical strength was always using family members to work in their businesses, allowing them to escape minimum wage laws and other crippling business regulations. But the problem also would affect hired management. If Wolff's solution to that would be to make hired managers co-worker/owners, equal with other workers, then we have the problem of how to get rid of them, if they turn out to be bad managers. They can't just be fired, if they were not, strictly speaking, "hired" in the first place.

This leads to another question. If workers are owners of their company, what happens when a new worker is brought on board? Do they simply acquire an equal share, by virtue of being a worker, despite bringing nothing else to the company and reducing the relative value of everyone else's share? That doesn't sound right. New workers should need to "buy in" to rightfully own their share of the value of the company. Similarly, hired managers, if fired, if possessing the status of workers themselves, would need to be "bought out" and given the value of their shares. The "golden parachute" would still exist. But all this would also mean that you don't just get hired and start earning money at your job. Instead, you must go into debt to start a new job, or get paid less while your "share" of ownership is paid up. I seriously doubt that Wolff would want to allow this, but the logic of his system leads to it.

These considerations all hinge on the value of property, which in Marxism has no value (except, as Locke said, it acquired value by being "mixed" with labor), and on the capital value of a business. But then a business can lose its value and go bankrupt. In Wolff's socialism, what happens then? We are liable to get a dynamic that, again, didn't come up in the debate. If the workers of worker owned businesses behave like the workers in historical labor unions, their notion of the value of a business is that it provides them jobs, not that it produces anything useful for the public. Thus, British labor unions argued that (government owned) coal mines should be kept open, even though they were losing money, i.e. were unprofitable, just because of the (dirty, dangerous, deadly) jobs they provided. After all, State industries in the Soviet Union never went bankrupt -- this couldn't be allowed when there might only be one factory producing the only product of its kind in the country. But Margaret Thatcher earned the unions' hostility by closing them anyway.

So it would be instructive to know if Wolff's system of "workers democracy" would allow bankruptcy, where workers would lose, not only their jobs, but the value of their share of the company, assuming that such value would be monetized (as necessary for worker buy-ins or management buy-outs) -- you would need a stock market for that, whose continued existence, or non-existence, Wolff didn't mention. If there is bankruptcy and, as Wolff allows, loans, then there certainly is going to be the "business cycle," which Wolff apparently believes can be abolished. And, it stands to reason, that Wolff's worker owned banks would be happy to loan money to failing businesses -- depending, perhaps, on where the money comes from. Wolff may have some ideas about how money can be created and provided to his banks. He may be encouraged by what the Left calls "modern monetary policy," which is that money can just be created without limit -- something that worked so well(!) in the Weimar Republic, Zimbabwe, and now in Venezuela.

At one point in the debate, someone in the audience shouted at Wolff, "Stop whining." After apologies and remonstrations for this outburst, which was trivial compared to what goes on at American colleges these days, without sanction (and where now students disrupting speakers don't want to be shown doing so), there were no futher rude interruptions. But perhaps Wolff was indeed whining, about what? He did complain more than once that there weren't, as far as he could tell, any Marxists or Marxist programs in American economics departments. Well, if Marxism is worthless as economics, as Thomas Sowell says in the epigraph above, then it is a tribute to American economists that economics departments are innocent of it. But this was also a disingenuous or dishonest complaint by Wolff, since he didn't acknowledge that Marxists can be found thick on the ground in college departments of English, sociology, history, and other disciplines -- where its quality, even as Marxism, is often little better than what I call Cargo Cult economics -- a phenomenon I also call "English Department Marxism." I learned all my Marxism, apart from books, in philosophy departments, sometimes from actual Marxist professors. The result of this has been a generation, or more, of college students who have been indoctrinated in the lies, propaganda, and folly of Marxists. Gene Epstein did not call out Wolff on this, so the false impression he was promoting was allowed to stand.

Another point of whining by Wolff may have been his response to Epstein's references to the tyranny and mass murder perpetrated by "socialist" regimes in the 20th century. Wolff complained about this, with the claim that socialism cannot be faulted for these evils because capitalism is just as bad. His example of the latter was the population loss in Kenya under British rule. He didn't say whether the British had simply been killing Kenyans, perhaps in their response to the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya (1952–1960), or if population loss was due to starvation, either because the British had been seizing land and expelling its population, or because of concentration camps that the British used during the rebellion. Even with that unclarified, there was an obvious rebuttal answer to this, which Gene Epstein did not give, which is that Adam Smith would have agreed with Richard Wolff 100%. Smith was against "imperialism," although the term was barely used in his day.

And if Adam Smith is the ur-theoriest of capitalism, then this means that imperialism, and whatever the British did in Kenya, is not part of capitalism. Wolff may be relying on Lenin's theory that capitalism resorts to imperialism because of its own failures -- a theory falsified both by the lack of such failures and by the actual economics of the British "Empire." Similarly, the British Whigs and then Liberals were always against imperialism, and that began in a spectacular way with the Whig prosectution of the first British Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings. It was the Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made Queen Victoria Empress of India. But in this we should also reflect that the British dominion in India suppressed the religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims, which afterwards led to multiple wars and a conflict that now is expressed in the nuclear weapons of both India and Pakistan. On the long view of history, one might wonder whether the Raj was, in fact, better than the war, terrorism, and nuclear standoff that have followed.

If the equivalence claimed by Wolff for the crimes of both capitalism and socialism is illegitimate, this makes worse his apparent complacency for what the history of regimes like the Soviet Union were like. Wolff began the evening with the fond recollection of his mother that during World War II United States post offices often displayed posters of Uncle Sam embracing Josef Stalin. That Stalin was as great a mass murderer as Adolf Hitler, and that the alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany was one of Real Politik convenience, and was certainly no more than expedient to Stalin himself, or that Stalin retained all his conquests after the War, doesn't seem to bother Richard Wolff in the least. That World War II began with Hitler and Stalin dividing Eastern Europe between them, and Stalin providing Hitler with materials of War for his invasions of the West, until Hitler turned against him in 1941, seems to figure in no moral calculus of Richard Wolff. Instead, Wolff, apparently like his mother, retains a kind of fondness for Stalin commensurate with the misrepresentations fed to the American public during the War to justify the Soviet alliance -- misrepresentations often constructed and transmitted by Communists and Soviet agents, who simply saw what they were doing as part of Soviet propaganda, preparing for a post-War world in which the enemy of the Soviet Union would be the democratic West.

So a point that never emerged during the debate, although there were hints, was the degree to which Marxism not only allows, but pretty much requires, a totalitarian regime -- just like is emerging at American colleges and univerisites today, with civil liberties abolished, political crimes without legal protections for the accused, and with thought crimes worse than actual criminal violence. The key there is the disparagment and rejection by Marx, as originally by Jean Jacques Rousseau, of civil society, i.e. the actual sphere of private life, apart from politics. This is a point rarely made, by anyone, to this effect, but it is of the last consequence. It is echoed in the principle of feminism that "the personal is political," with the inevitable implication that everything is political. If the "workers' democracy" doesn't like how you live your life, then you don't have the right to live that way. All those evening meetings will tell you what your life is supposed to be like.

The Soho debate between Richard Wolff and Gene Epstein got into no such deep waters. Debate formats don't deal with such things very well. But Wolff's complacency and obvious sympathy for regimes from the Soviet Union to Venezuela, despite claims that they had gotten Marxism all wrong, were a red flag (as it were) that his idea of "democracy" might not include the freedom and civil liberties that most sensible people (excluding recent college students) see as essential to liberal democracy. At the very least, we might like to pick our own jobs and not be assigned to a company by the labor authority. And if new hires don't need to buy their way into a company of which they immediately become part owners, how are the other workers really going to feel about that?

Ryan Seals at Reason directed Gene Epstein's attention to my comments here on the Soho debate, and he answered Ryan with the following:

Ryan, you might suggest to philosopher Ross that he listen to the debate on podcast or video so to enhance his chance to address what I actually did say.

Of course, I was at the debate; and my remarks were more or less my real-time reactions and impressions to what was said. I did not take notes, because that was not the idea. And I have no enthusiasm to repeat the experience by watching the video. This may mean I missed some things or misunderstood, but we shall see.

For example, he begins with:

A prime issue was that capitalism is "unstable," which means that the "business cycle" involves economic distruption and putting people out of work. Epstein never responded to this, although I think he did quote Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) at one point that capitalism involves "creative destruction." But that was not specific or explanatory enough. What the business cycle eliminates are businesses that have failed or are uneconomical, along with bad investments and bad loans. All of these need to be eliminated, and a problem in recent history has been attempts to save failed businesses and protect bad investments.

If he returns to the debate, he'll find that in my own opening statement I contrasted Richard's view of the causes of the 2008-09 recession vs, mine. I did not mention Schumpeter at all (that came much later when I cited "creative destruction") but specifically spoke of the role of the Federal Reserve, while pointing out that Richard had written that it was due to a decline in consumer spending.

Epstein may have missed my point. The instability of capitalism seemed to be a "prime issue" for Richard Wolff, since he mentioned it early or first in his litany of the failures or evils of capitalism. This was not the topic of the debate, and if Epstein didn't respond to that specifically, fair enough. But if his only remark was to dispute the causes of the 2008-2009 recession, this certainly was not responsive to a general issue of the "instability" of capitalism or the meaning or causes of the business cycle. Epstein says that he didn't mention Schumpeter, but then again that he did, but certainly not in terms of "creative destruction" being part of any defense of the value of the business cycle.

If Ross reviews what was actually said, he'll also find that the moderator kept reminding the audience (and also Prof. Wolff) of the issues specified in the resolution: freedom, prosperity & equality -- not instability, which was therefore not a "prime issue.'

So Epstein says here that I wasn't actually wrong that he did not respond to the issue of the business cycle. And he didn't because that was not part of the debate resolution, which means it was inappropriate or unnecessary for him to talk about it. But if he thinks I was saying that this was a "prime issue" of the debate, he has misunderstood my comment, which was only that it seemed to be a prime issue for Richard Wolff, since it led his details of the evils of capitalism. And it worried me that, in such a venue, there was no response to it, regardless of the debate resolution.

So in the limited time available I felt honor-bound to address the resolution Richard had agreed in advance to defend, and which the audience had voted on & was expecting us both to address.

Cordially, Gene
Gene Epstein

As I said above, fair enough. But then I was not "honor-bound" in any concern that the debaters stick to the resolution; and if the moderator needed to remind Prof. Wolff to address the specified issues, then we can infer that he did not always do so. Whether or not it violates the Marquess of Queensbeery Rules, in political debates it is wise to follow the drift of the argument, lest the audience be left with a false impression -- especially an impression that one debater has avoided an important question, perhaps because he has no good answer.

At the same time, Wolff might argue that the business cycle is a defect in capitalism in terms of "prosperity," since workers who lose their jobs in a recession or depression are certainly experiencing less prosperity. The implicit promise of Wolff for socialism was that there would be no business cycle and so uninterrupted prosperity, with no job losses, for all workers. If this was Wolff's promise, then the issue of the business cycle was in fact relevant to the debate and its resolution; and Epstein, by his own admission here, did not address it. Wolff, however, did not unpack his point, or his implicit promise, and perhaps Epstein cannot be faulted for judging the matter tangential and not pursuing it. However, this was a loose end in the debate, and I hated to see Wolff go unchallenged.

The Junto Debate: Huemer v. Epstein

The Soho Forum Debate: Barnett v. Dorf

The Post-Modern Left

The Problem of Democracy

Political Economy

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 2019, 2022 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved