Marxism: Ideas and practices said to derive from the writings of Karl Marx.
It is often difficult to say to what extent Marx is responsible for or the originator of the doctrines and movements he has been said to inspire. But he inspired very many movements and men, and can only be compared to very few others in that respect.
The reason Marxism is interesting is not because of Marx's teachings or ideas (unless one is a Marxist) but because it provides so much excellent evidence about totalitarianism: What it inspires, what it produces, and how it works.
Another reason to study it, or some of it, is that of all philosophies of the last two centuries, it was by far the most influential and most widely held.
An interesting, clear and well-written study of Marxism is
- Raymond Aron's 'L'Opium des intellectuels'.
It ably disposes of it, and also describes the mood and people in the French Marxist intellectual Left around 1950, which is interesting because it is so recognizably highly similar to other leftist intellectual milieus elsewhere and at other times in the 20th Century.
There have been many studies of many aspects of Marxism, some by Marxists, and not necessarily the worse for that, and some by ex-Marxists or non-Marxists. Here are a few with some comments:
- Conquest: The Great Terror - This tells the awful history of Stalin's campaign of terror of the 1930ies.
- Radnitzky: Stalin - A recent biography of Stalin.
- Li: The private life of Chairman Mao - Living with Mao Tse Tung as told by his private doctor.
- Crossman: The God that failed - Book of essays by ex-Marxists explaining why they believed in it and stopped doing so.
- Orwell: Animal Farm - Brief novel about Soviet socialism told as a tale about the liberation of animals.
- Talmon: The origins of totalitarian democracy - Study of the totalitarian aspects of socialism and communism traced back to the 18th Century, especially Rousseau, but also others, like Babeuf.
- Mills : The Marxists - able, well-written sympathetic exposition of Marxism by an American professor of sociology.
- Morishima: Marx' Economics - Relatively recent study of Marxian economics restated with the help of matrix algebra.
- Steedman: Marx after Sraffa - Book of 1977 that explains where Marx erred economically to Marxists and to mathematical economists, along similar lines as Morishima, but easier mathematically speaking.
- Zinoviev: Yawning Heights - Long and sharp satire of the Soviet Union by a Russian logician and philosopher.
- Duncan & Wilson: Marx Refuted - Very uneven book of essays printed just before the 1989-collapse of Soviet socialism.
- Yang: Wild Swans - Description of living in Communist China, including the years of Mao's Cultural Revolution.
Why provide this list of books? Well, to speak a little personally, there are two general reasons for it:
One. My parents were sincere communists, and I was raised in that faith - which I lost when I was 20. Hence I know a lot about it, both intellectually, since I had to think through it in order to liberate myself from it, and emotionally, in that I understand the appeal Marxism may have for benevolent and intelligent people.
Two. Marxism wrecked great havock in the world, and did so because of its features, that combine totalitarianism, a rhetoric of freedom, millenarian notions and promises, and a would-be complete philosophical, scientific and economical analysis of reality and human history. It is well documented, and should serve as an object-lesson about wishful thinking, totalitarianism, and the human ability for self-deception.