So I was thinking about Marxism, and how strange it is that it only ever really caught on in precisely the countries where it itself proclaimed it shouldn’t, and never became very domestically important in the countries where it was supposed to go.
It’s kind of like if there were a bunch of people going around proclaiming “This is what Mexican culture is like,” only none of them were Mexican, and actual Mexicans wanted very little to do with it–you might suspect that the stuff being called “Mexican culture” wasn’t all that Mexican.
Only we’re talking about overthrowing the state and killing a bunch of people, rather than tacos and Cinco de Mayo.
Marx proclaimed that Communism, (by which I mean Marxist-style communism inspired by Marx and written about by Marx in his many works on the subject, which became the intellectual basis for the international communist movement that eventually triumphed in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba, N. Korea, etc.) was supposed to be the natural outgrowth of capitalism itself in industrialized nations, but the list I just gave contains only barely-industrialized or practically feudal nations.
Marx was, of course, a mere mortal; one cannot expect anyone to write thousands of pages and come out correct in all of them. Still, this is a pretty big oversight. A great deal of Marx’s theory rests on the belief that the form of the economic system dictates the culture and political system: that is, that capitalism forces people to act and organize in certain ways in order to feed the capitalist machine; feudalism forces people to act and organize in certain other ways, in order to feed the feudal machine.
So for the capitalist, industrialized countries to not go Communist, while a bunch of non-capitalist, non-industrialized do, seems like a pretty big blow to the basics of the theory.
Kind of like if I had a theory that all noble gases were naturally magnetic, and all metals weren’t, and yet metal things kept sticking to my magnets and noble gases seemed relatively uninterested. I might eventually start thinking that maybe I was wrong.
Of course you can pick and chose your Marxism; you might like the idea of the “commodity fetish” while throwing out the rest of the bathwater. Have at it. But we are speaking here of believing both broadly and deeply enough in Marx’s theories to actually advocate overthrowing the state and murdering all the Kulaks.
My own theory is that Marxism appealed to the wrong group of people precisely because they were the wrong group of people.
Actual scientists tend to have little interest in pseudo science. Actual members of a culture don’t get excited by fake versions of their culture. And people with actual experience with industrial capitalism have little interest in Marxism.
In short, Marxism became a kind of myth among unindustrialized or barely-industrialized people about what would happen when the factories came, and so believing the myth, they made it happen.
Marx had intended to create a “science;” describing patterns in his data and thereby making predictions about the future. When that future didn’t happen, the first reaction of his followers was to double down–the theory must not have worked because evil bad people were sabotaging it.
(If it happens naturally, why would it have saboteurs?)
Many people have accused Communism of being a religion–an atheistic religion, but a religion nonetheless. SSC wisely asks Is Everything a Religion?–since practically everything does get described as a religion. EvenCargo Cult Programming.)
Every worldview–every meme-plex, as I like to call them–involves certain beliefs about the world that help people make sense of the vast quantities of data we absorb every day and make predictions about the future. My observation of the sun rising leads me to believe there is a consistent pattern of “sun rises in morning” and that, therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow. “Science” itself contains many such beliefs.
Religions, like all other world views and meme-plexes, provide a way of organizing and understanding one’s observations about the world, generally through appeal to supernatural agents. (It rains because Zeus is peeing through a sieve; suffering exists because sin.)
The obvious reason belief systems get called religions is to insult them and suggest that they are irrational.
Of course, none of us is entirely rational; the idea that bags of rice that suddenly fell from the sky were the gift of the sky gods makes as much sense as any other if you have no other information on the subject. Scientists believe wrong and irrational things, too.
The critical difference is that science attempts to falsify itself–a theory cannot even be described as “scientific” if it cannot be falsified. All meme-plexes resist change, both because of human biases and because it’s probably a bad idea to try to re-formulate your beliefs about everything every time you happen across a single discordant datum, but science does attempt to disprove and discard bad theories over time–this is fundamentally what science is, and this is why I love science.
A faith, by contrast, is something one just believes, even despite evidence to the contrary, or without any ability to disprove it. For the deeply faithful, the reaction to evidence that contradicts one’s theory is generally not, “Hrm, maybe the theory is wrong,” but, “We aren’t following the the theory hard enough!”
The former leads to penicillin and airplanes; the later leads to dead people.
Note: I feel compelled to add that not all faith leads to dead people. Faith in Communism certainly did, however.
Marxists failed to admit information that contradicted their theories; they just killed people who contradicted their theories for being counter-revolutionaries.