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How did we get here? Part 11

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

(Continued from last week.)

Now, we come to one of the most influential people of the last 200 years: Karl Marx – and his sidekick, Frederick Engels.

Karl Marx (1818-83) was born in Germany. He and his wife lived in exile in London for many decades (his political thinking was not welcome in Germany).

He is known for “The Communist Manifesto” (published in 1848) and "Das Kapital" (three volumes written between 1867-83). Marx believed that capitalism would self-destruct due to internal tensions, something we are still waiting to see happen. He neatly divided society into two distinct groups – the ruling class (the bourgeoisie), owning the means of production; and the working classes (the proletariat), who provided the labor required by the means of production.

This writer finds Marx’s works to be simplistic and applicable to a particular time in history – the mid-19th century. Those who love his work, especially like this quote attributed to him: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (Some erroneously think this is from the Bible.)

Marx’s theories do not consider continuing productivity improvements, the growth of leisure time because of productivity improvements or the necessity of a massive authoritarian administrative class to make sure everything works “smoothly” in Communism (or Socialism).

This administrative class is problematic, for it begets corruption of the highest order and looks much like the despised bourgeoisie. Additionally, it is hard to keep those with abilities producing at a high level to support all, including those with needs. Often, it has been found that a gun is necessary to keep the producers in line.

The USSR failed miserably at making Marx’s theories work, as did many other smaller attempts. Communism only works at the point of a bayonet or when accompanied by the delivery of a fatal bullet from the aforementioned gun. That was how Stalin kept it all together. Ultimately, the game was up, and failure came in the early 1990s.

The common question today is what about China? What about Scandinavia? I do not see modern China as so much communist as I see it as authoritarian, complete with atrocities committed against humans in order to keep them in line. China’s businesses succeed on capitalistic principles.

Scandinavia is a bit more like the Marx model, but the countries are small, and the populations are largely of one non-diverse purpose (eke out a living in a hostile natural environment).

Locally, the Amish and Mennonite communities make a form of socialism work, but there is a very important key to their success. They are small enough that everyone in the community knows everyone else and hence knows their needs. They have leaders, of course, but the whole community knows each other’s joys and problems.

Hence, no need for the “administrative” class as we find in large secular governments (think Columbus or Washington, D.C.).

Frederick Engels (1820-95). Eh, more of the same as Marx. Interestingly, Engels’s family was wealthy textile factory owners (bourgeoisie) and through Engels’ family wealth, Frederick supported Marx and his family, allowing Marx the time to develop his theories.

In essence, Marx and Engels had the idle time to develop Marxism due to the wealth of the Engels family. Now, isn’t that special?

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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