Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marx *never* visited a factory!??

I realized - and have written about - the fact that Karl Marx' ideas were asinine by the time I was 13-14 years old. The world he envisioned was so beyond the way anything works in reality, anyone who hasn't figured out why Communism (and Socialism!) cannot possibly work by the time they're 18 or 20 immediately loses my respect intellectually.

I'll leave the praise for F.A. Hayek for another time... What I didn't know, at least, not until today - was that for all his endless jibber-jabber on the working class, and the proletariat masses, Karl Marx never once set foot in a factory!

What's that you say? Indeed.

From Qualitative Methods in Management Research, Second Edition by Dr. Evert Gummesson, I bring you page 69:
British historian Paul Johnson,[32] in analyzing the "heartless lovers of humankind," gives examples of people - among them many intellectuals - who represented strong beliefs and ideas but had no intention of getting acquainted with them through personal experience. Karl Marx inherited considerable sums of money and never had less than two servants. He was a ruthless exploiter of his familiy and friends, among them the socialist philosopher Friedrich Engels. he "was unwilling to do any on-the-spot investigating himself," and he never visited a factory; he had to rely solely on written reports and other types of knowledge through intermediaries. "Lenchen [the family maid] was the only member of the working class that Marx ever knew at all well"; she became his mistress and gave birth to their child. Marx never paid her a cent and tried to persuade Engels to acknowledge the child as his. Stalin never endeavored to find out what ordinary citizen wanted but was an enthusiastic consumer of statistics. Lenin was a library socialist - "an embodied theory" - who never set foot in a factory until he became the Soviet leader.

Karl Marx used to classify his own work as scientific and call his enemies unscientific. Recent history reveals the disastrous effects of the ideas of Marx, Lenin and Stalin; reality has caught up with them, and their "theories" - deductions based on second-hand knowledge - have been invalidated.

Seriously? Yeah.

The full passage from the Paul Johnson article is even more interesting, but you can go to the link at the bottom to read that. There is another excerpt that's worth quoting in its entirety here though:
"But there are good reasons why most intellectuals share common ground with socialists. Keynes gets to the heart of the matter, for avarice is far less dangerous than the will to power, especially power over people. It is not the formulation of ideas, however misguided, but the desire to impose them on others that is the deadly sin of the intellectual. That is why they so incline by temperament to the left. For capitalism merely occurs, if no one does anything to stop it. It is socialism that has to be constructed, and as a rule, forcibly imposed, thus providing a far bigger role for intellectuals in its genesis."

Amusingly enough, you know who else has a similar life-story? Rich fop, bad economist, bearer of horrendous ideas: 1st Baron, John Maynard Keynes himself. Johnson points out that Keynes was not pre-disposed to treating the people around him in such a contemptuous manner, and imposing his ideas on others in the manner that Marx, Freud, Percy Shelley, or even - Johnson notes - Ayn Rand were wont to do.

That said, Rand may have been dictatorial in her personal life, but at least her broad-scale ideas on society at large were in support and defense of voluntarism and liberty... Unlike the other intellectuals who were generally bent on conforming humanity to some predetermined schema. Marx most famously, of course, describing that before his ideas could be fully implemented a "New Socialist Man" need develop. A more evolved, more altruistic creature, a hive-mind capable of working ad nauseum for his comrades with no expectation of reward and no limit for being mindlessly controlled by the masters of socialist society. This new man would accept his position wherever the planners put him, and work as hard as he could for generalized love of all mankind. The things people would need; clothing, food, shelter, medical care - everything would be produced in abundant supply not due to some evil and exploitative desire for grotesque profits, but rather for the knowledge that the worker drones are contributing. The work would be its own reward, and so it would be ok with the new socialist man that working harder produced no better a quality of life for himself or his family. Working harder would be its own reward.

In short, Marx dreamt up a man who has never and will never exist. Marx was so in love with his ideas, he never stopped to take into account the specifics of how they might work, he never bothered to stop and realize that reality doesn't behave the way he wanted merely because he wanted it to. Certainly the obvious reasons are because Marx deliberately avoided ever having to experience anything first-hand and I can only assume that he never envisioned himself doing the hard work to make his society run. It likely didn't occur to him that most people, given the choice, would rather do nothing at all than to shovel manure, clean toilets, scrub kitchens, dig around in the dirt or pick up trash. Less charitably, it might not have occurred to Marx that those jobs had to be done by anyone in particular anyway, given that he absolutely never did such things himself. But insofar as Marx preferred only for thinking up the grand visions of society without ever bothering to think through the specifics, he was perhaps a singularly-gifted idiot.

And that, I think, is Johnson's best point to make. As the final sentence of his essay reads:
"Remember at all times, that people must always come before ideas and not the other way around."
A theory that doesn't explain reality is a pretty bad theory indeed... A theorist who scrupulously avoids entering reality is much worse.

[32] - Johnson, Paul. "The Heartless Lovers of Humankind." Wall Street Journal [New York City] 5 Jan. 1987. Print.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should read Johnson's biographical work The Intellectuals for more detail like that offered in the article you cite.