Has Marxism Been Tried?

Ezra Klein writes,

Any Marxist will tell you that "real" Marxism was never tried. That said, just about every time something called Marxism was tried, it traveled down much the same course, and failed in much the same way. Which is what you should be passing judgment on.

Klein seems to think that Marxism is a system of government or a particular kind of economic arrangement. As I see it, Marxism is actually a social scientific philosophy or a school of history, not a political system. Today it’s hard to find any social history (even in works by mainstream historians) that isn’t somehow influenced by Marxian analysis. Sure, Marxism can can lend itself to an overly simplistic or deterministic view of human events…but whatever, I say most vulgar Marxist explanation is often the most correct.

What Klein means to say is that many socialists claim that real socialism has never been tried. Sure enough, I would argue that neither the Soviet Union nor any other Communist state since 1917 has been truly socialist in any sense. But I think it’s more useful to think about real-existing socialist movements rather than real-existing socialist systems. Readers of this blog know that socialist movements and parties around the world have won significant economic and political victories for the working class.

If worker power and worker control are the sine qua non factors of socialism (and I think they are), then we can say that any society with free and independent labor unions and workers parties is more socialist than the deeply exploitative and authoritarian system that came to be in Russia and its Communist cousins. The goal of our kind of socialism is to democratize the infrastructures of our economy make our society lessnot more like the Soviet Union.

PS: I would say that socialism has been tried in various kinds of cooperative experiments, in the Kibbutz movement (problematics of Zionism aside), in the Swedish wage-earner funds and perhaps, in embryonic form, in the Commune of Paris. While these experiments didn’t turn out the way socialists might have hoped, I wouldn’t call them catastrophes…they were admirable attempts to build a more humane and democratic social order … their promises will inspire (and their failures will inform) future socialist projects.


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