Marx died in Britain in obscurity. That was 1883, for his funeral only a handful of people were present, one among them was a British. No detachments of the British "proletariat" were present to salute their discoverer. In this most important capitalist country of that time, 19th century, there was no report of a single representative of British "proletariat" trying in any way to attend. "Proletariat" was absent from the funeral of a person who later became the idol of the "scientific socialism", his bust occupying many public squares and his image adorning great many walls private and public.
How did Marx's book of fables, "Das Capital", became the law of the land for some one billion people? A bible that you could not speak against or criticize -- with many more converts all across the globe who were willing to die and died for the opportunity to live under the command of Marx's ideas.
It was assumed that the age of prophets and great religions were over. The perception was that the emergence of great religions were specific to the fertile regions of the Euphrates, Middle East. It seems emergence of Marxism and communism defies that assessment.
Our species for tens of thousands of years, maybe several hundred thousand years, since the emergence of language as the predominant form of communication, has lived and died by their myths. These myths were for connection with the world beyond and a social code of conduct which was "pleasing" to that world – world of the ancestors, spirits, gods and finally god. These myths always had a flip side, a side that should be avoided, shunned and fought against, the dark side, the demons, and the evil.
For almost the entire history of our species these myths remained oral and symbolic. They rose and fell with the rise and fall of the societies that hosted those myths. Many of those societies went extinct and their myths died with them, some dissolved in some other stronger societies leaving traces of their myth in the predominant myth of the day.
The oral nature of the primitive myths limited their reach to the domain of the tribe. With the written language this changed. The reach of a myth potentially could go beyond the tribe. The two greatest religions, Christianity and Islam, had the advantage that it was written down. It did not matter that both scriptures, the Bible and the Qur'an, had appeared as texts many years after the death of their prophets. But the spread of these scriptures had another critical element. These religions spread out because there was a conquering society which became the final validator of the faith.
Without Uthman, the third Caliph, compiling the Qur'an and conquering beyond the Arabian tribes of the peninsula, we probably would not have heard about Islam beyond a local tribal belief system. The same, without Roman Empire adopting Christianity probably we would not have known about Christianity as we know it today.
Genghis Khan was a great conqueror and the expanse of his conquests was one of the largest the history has known. His legend among the Mongol tribes of the East Asia is beyond a prophet. He was known as a demigod and it continues until today. But he did not have a written version of his tribal belief system, nor was his legend written down by his posterity. If it would have happened, if there could have been a book of "Khan", revered by his conquering army, we might be living alongside that myth instead of Islam and Christianity as the predominant religion.
Marxism had both its scripture and its conquering general, Lenin. In addition the social conditions for its spread beyond the Russian border existed. A factor that for the other great religions we know less about.
Confused about the emerging market economy and the relationship of the workers to the market, Marx thought of capitalism as a "definite" stage in the human development which he believed he had fully understood. Probably it was not possible for him to do otherwise, but the fact is that Marx did not grasp that his understanding was governed by the same forces that was shaping his time.
Marx said, "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness." This is probably one of the most perceptive statements from him. Marx was born and raised in the more backward political domains of Europe. Actually the continent of Europe was yet dominated by landed aristocracy and autocratic governments which were continuously fearful of Britain and suspicious of democratic developments in the far-flung America. Resistance to capitalism was general and also to the emerging political form most suited for it, democracy.
In case of France, seemingly an exceptional situation, it was not an exception. France had its own way of resisting the winds of change which manifested itself to the extremes that it resorted to. Faced with pressures for change, it always tried to push it a few notch higher than Britain. The "Égalité" of the French Revolution of the 1789 was a case in point. Only blood sustained that slogan and it could not find any social reality no matter how much more one could spill. The celebration of that event, the Great French Revolution, is not about whatever Greatness French society achieved but a remorse about an opportunity for "Égalité" that was missed. This has something to do with the peculiar leftism in France, to mourn in the cafes for the lost causes – French Revolution, Paris Commune, 1968 Student Uprisings. Even reforms took extreme forms.
Napoleon Bonaparte had to carry them, the French reforms, to the rest of Europe at the tip of the bayonets.
Resistance to capitalism was general and that was the environment that Marx and other important socialist thinkers flourished under. Criticism of Britain at the time was a common theme of the high social circles and their intellectuals in the continent of Europe. You can find similar situation in the undeveloped countries today, the way their intellectuals and the rulers, both in unison, criticize the United States. Their critical content is nothing but resistance to modernity.
One can observe that the domain of the most important Marxists after Marx were the more backward regions of Europe particularly the Eastern segments. The interesting question is that why Marx's influence was weakest in places where capitalism and its political environment, democracy, was the strongest. Why it did not find any significant root in Britain and the young United States. Marx could not ignore this fact but did not explain this challenge to his theories. He was chased from the continent of Europe finding refuge in Britain where his initial criticism of capitalism had begun. When one understands the essence of Marx's criticism of capital, as I explained it in the earlier sections, one conclusion is inescapable. His theories at the psychological level were the most logical coagulation of that predominant resistance to democracy in Europe. If one wants to categorize his thoughts, in terms of stages that he was so fond of, Marx's ideas must be seen as a pre capitalist thought formation. It was pre capitalist thinking, a myth, a moralistic pseudo-science.
Without the Bolshevik coup of 1917 in Russia, all indications were, that Marxism would take its place as a marginal idea, an attempt for an earthly world view that could not substantiate itself. Instead, Marx's obsession turned into a religion that found millions of followers. This following was strongest in what came to be known as the “third world”, an intellectual celebration of backwardness.
Invigorated by the Bolshevik victory almost the entire intelligentsia of the backward societies was mesmerized by the Marxist ideology. Facing the daunting task of finding ways for modernizing their backward societies they opted for the opposition to the fundamental forces that made democratic societies strong. It was easier to see their own weakness as cause célèbre and either adopt the banner of communism or look inward. When the banner of communism failed them, they looked even more inward.
The ups and downs of the capitalist and democratic developments in the Americas and Europe provided fertile ground for more military conquests by communist ideologues. At the same time within these ups and downs the democratic alliances grew and gained strength while communism fragmented and revealed its internal weaknesses like all of our ancestral myths.
Victory of the Bolsheviks ignited this inherent resistance in the undeveloped societies into a wildfire against "imperialism". Victories in China, Korea, Eastern Europe and Vietnam substantiated this, but was interpreted differently. "Specter of Communism" seemed to have found a new reality. Nothing is like a victory, particularly a military one, to revive a myth. But these victories, the wildfire of communism proved to have the enduring strength of a bush fire. It roared quickly and died down even faster. Like a deer caught in a bush fire, roar of communism entangled many frustrated visionaries, running from one corner to another trying to get ahead of it.
The above piece is part of a book that I am developing. If you would like to follow, please read the blogs titled "Perspective..." and then read all the blogs which the title name ends with " -- Book". As you might have guessed, you have to read from the earlier posts moving to the present.