That’s not what Karl Marx said

I am constantly amazed at how many people think Karl Marx led the Russian Revolution and was all in favor of suppressing the public and stamping out all that is good in the world. I have seen political views being called “Marxist” that Karl Marx himself would have hated.

Let’s put this in perspective: Marx was observing how terrible life was for working people during the start of the industrial revolution. Children were working for pennies a day in unsafe factories seven days a week without adequate food, shelter or medical care. Europe and America were turning into a sort of feudal system where the rich trampled upon the poor, and it appeared that it would never change.Original_Marx_Brothers

Marx thought that the only solution to this was a revolution, after which would be the establishment of communism. His idea of communism is like the hippies thought in the 60s: We’ll all work together, live in a commune (hence “communism”) and share equally, with no one above anyone else.

His view was that by sharing in this way, everyone could benefit.

Keep in mind that Marx, being an economist, was mostly talking about the economy. Marx was not against democracy. He saw democracy as “the road to socialism” and before he died, he even backed away from the idea that a revolution was needed (having observed the progress that was made in America thanks to unions). Marx was not against freedom of speech or other basic rights. He imagined that the people would still vote for their leaders but that the leaders would not be richer or better off than anyone they represented.

All of this is impossible, impractical, and will never happen.

But his ideas were still appealing to those people on the bottom rungs of society, and so when Lenin and Stalin brought about the Russian Revolution, they claimed they were doing this to bring about communism and thus help everyone. They lied. Obviously, Stalin did not have any intention of installing a democracy or allowing free speech, any more than Mao did in China using the same rhetoric.

And that’s the problem. As wrong-headed as Marx was about society and what solutions were needed to fix the problems he saw, he thought his ideas would benefit people, not enslave them. He was not evil incarnate. He was trying to make things better. His theory was warped by those who used it to accomplish their ends.

Keep in mind that Marx died in 1883, thirty-four years before the Russian Revolution. He had already begun to change his theories about what was needed to solve the vast inequalities in society, and it’s pretty clear that he would not have supported Stalin’s brutal regime which pretended to be communist.

Now, for those of you who skimmed over this and are now calling me a Marxist: No, I clearly am not. (Unless you mean Groucho.)  Communism, which robs humans of individuality and discourages individual thought and incentive, will never work. And neither will capitalism, which rewards the rich and the powerful while enslaving the majority. The solution is what basically every country in the world now has: a socialist system somewhere between those two extremes.

The debate is over where on the scale we should be.

Capitalists except when Obama does it

The Obama administration recently announced that the regulation of domain names for the internet, which has been controlled by the government, will soon be decided by the free market. dot-com-domain-seisure  So of course conservative groups who rail against government regulation cheered loudly, congratulating Obama for supporting capitalism.

Ha ha! Just kidding!

Just a few days ago we saw how conservatives love capitalism and the free market (except when government regulations help their Big Money contributors).   

And how the basic premise behind Fox News is “Whatever Obama does, we’re against it.”

So I don’t have to let you know how Fox reacted, do I?  

Health care for profit

In the rest of the civilized world, health care is not a profit-making venture. Oh, sure, doctors are well-paid, but your health decisions aren’t made based on money. While everyone else realized that making sure their citizens needed health care in the same way they needed fire departments, America moved in the opposite direction — and now we pay more for health care than anywhere else and don’t get any advantage from it.

Just look at this chart (click on it to make it bigger and easier to read) … you’d think with the amount of money we’re spending, we’d be the healthiest people ever. original But no, we have lower life expectancy and higher childhood deaths than any comparable country. Partially that’s because a ton of that money goes to insurance companies, who provide no health care whatsoever, and partially it’s because we don’t cover preventive care. Instead, the insurance companies only concentrate on treating you after you’re sick.

Capitalism does not solve everything. The market clearly does not solve everything. There are many examples of this, especially in the area of health care.

And that’s why I get so frustrated with people who say the government should stay out of health care. Are these people not paying attention? We’ve done that. It hasn’t worked. All the evidence is against you.

Mostly it’s just people who have this ridiculous libertarian view that all government is bad. If only the government got out of our lives, they think, we’d all live in a utopian paradise. This despite the fact that this has never happened in the history of the world and whenever these sorts of things are tried, we end up with an unhealthy and broke populace (like now) and with markets that collapse and go into recession every twenty years or so. Yet these idealists continue in their dream for a world that has never exist and never could.

Get your terms right, you totalitarian fascist!

Too many people confuse political terms, and think that if they don’t agree with a politician, then that politician’s views are communistic and therefore undemocratic and so on.  Let’s try to simplify things.

There are two sets of terms to know:  economic and political.  A government has both.


Capitalism.  This is where the market decides and government stays out of it.  No minimum wage, no health inspections, no laws against discrimination, no regulations on business at all.  This doesn’t work, because you end up with the powerful running everything, destroying the economy, and keeping people in poverty.

Communism.  This is where the government runs business.  The idea is that we should all live together in peace and harmony and share everything, and the President earns the same amount as the guy who sweeps the street.  This also doesn’t work, because it completely destroys initiative and any reason to try to improve yourself.

Socialism.  This is where most countries are, where the government regulates business to prevent the abuses capitalism can bring, and provides many services (libraries, hospitals, parks, fire departments, social security, unemployment, etc.)  This is the tough balance to meet.  You don’t want to go too far in either direction, and most of the debate in the US is over how far to go.


Democracy.  This is where the people decide, usually through representative democracy or republicanism.

Totalitarianism.  This is a dictatorship, whether individually controlled (North Korea) or committee controlled (China).  Once more, there are degrees here as well as various types (monarchy, fascism, oligarchy).  But the key thing they all have in common is that the decision-making power is not with the people.

What usually happens is that people confuse the economic with the political.  The Soviet Union was a communist country but was also a totalitarian country, and people started associating the two.  This is wrong.  You could have a democratic communist country.

It’s even more confusing when countries lie about themselves.  Just because you call yourself “the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” doesn’t mean you are a democratic republic, any more than China is the “people’s republic.” The Soviet Union was indeed a communist country, but it was a corrupt one because you know perfectly well that not everyone shared equally in that society.

Disclaimer:  This is a really quick and simple explanation and is meant to be a guideline and a start for conversation.