Marxism Can’t Work Because It Always Leads to Totalitarianism
Marxists have learnt from Stalinism, which was, in many ways, the antithesis of Marxists’ notions of democratic socialism. Part of the reason for Stalinist totalitarianism is that socialism was attempted in one country, whereas Marx, and a number of Marxists at the time (notably Trotsky) believed that, for it to work, it must be international. This meant that the Soviet Union, being isolated, concentrated on accumulation rather than consumption. Alone in a sea of capitalist states, the economy was geared to competing economically and militarily with the rest of the world, with workers’ rights taking a back seat. I am not claiming that this direction for the Soviet Union was inevitable and there are no inherent reasons why these mistakes should be made again. To succeed, socialism needs to be international and democratic. Indeed, as Jonathan Maunder (2006, p. 13) reminds us, whereas previous exploited classes, such as the peasantry could rise up, seize lands and divide them up among themselves, workers cannot, for example, divide a factory, hospital or supermarket. Thus if workers do seize control of such institutions, they can only run them collectively. As Maunder (2006, p. 13) concludes: ‘[t]heir struggles have a democratic logic that can lay the basis for a different way of running society’.
Genuinely democratic socialism, where elected leaders are permanently subject to recall democratically by those who have elected them, is the best way to safeguard against totalitarianism (this concept, a central plank of democratic socialism, is in fact enshrined in the 1999 constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the form of a Recall Referendum. This means that Venezuelan voters have the right to remove their president from office before the expiration of the presidential term).
While, following Bowles and Gintis, I noted above that capitalist political systems are formally democratic, bourgeois democracy, for example in Britain and the US, in effect amounts to a form of totalitarianism. In these countries, citizens can vote every 5 years, having in reality a choice (in the sense of who will actually be able to form a government) of two main totally pro-capitalist parties, who then go on to exercise power in the interests of neoliberal global capitalism and imperialism with little or no regard for the interests of those workers who elected them. There are, of course, some restraints on what they can get away with (minimum wage and European human rights legislation in Britain, for example), and importantly, the balance of class forces and the strength of working class resistance (e.g. Hill 2009).