Did Marx or Lenin Really Believe in Any of That Crap?

From my reading of history it is pretty obvious that by Stalin’s time the ruling elite in the USSR had no interest in communism other than as a cover for total control of the state, industry and it’s people.

My Question: Did Marx or Lenin really believe that communism was a path toward social and political equality? Were there any true “believers” in the power sphere in the USSR during this time or was all just a cover for a power grab?

Extra Credit: Is there anyone of any influence that believes communism is a viable way to run a country today? (China being more of a tight central-control capitalist economy/government.)

Marx wasn’t in the Soviet Union, you know. He and Engels wrote the key Communist texts in the mid-19th century in Germany. They weren’t trying to grab power themselves and from what I know, there’s no reason to believe they were not sincere in believing what they wrote.

That is correct, but sincerity and a real belief that it can work are two different things. I’m going after the real belief point of view.

Er…you do realize that Karl Marx died in 1883, right? And he lived in Germany (and, IIRC, died in the UK)? And that the Russian Revolution happened in 1917? Lenin of course was another story.


Apologies for the poor wording–I do understand the time and country difference.

Anyone can write a book about what is wrong and how to fix it, but a belief that an idea can work coupled with an ability and drive to make it happen while staying true to the ideals? Not so easy. So. . .was Lenin a believer or an opportunist with a book to rally around?

Besides being a stone cold ruthless son of a bitch…yeah, I think Lenin was a true believer. You can’t fake that sort of passion. Of course, Hitler was a true believer in National Socialism, and absolutely believed every word he wrote in his books as well, so…


Marx and Engels, too. Not inappropriately, they were the exact kind of people they claimed to hate. Marx, the genteel academic quite divorced from any real labor, or for that matter, common human decency (he was a little dictator in the Internationale himself). Engel, the greedy landlord who screwed out grassroots Communists.

You can’t lead a successful armed revolution against your government and install a radically different political system without conviction in your beliefs.

What makes you think Lenin might have been faking it? If Marx was, Lenin certainly didn’t think so.

Trotsky was a true believer until the end. But much like Marx and Engels, while he had a solid grasp of the economic underpinnings of communism, none of them actually had even a decent grasp of the political underpinnings. Nor did any of them have a decent grasp of the sociological foundations necessary to determine if communism would work - but then no one else did either since sociology and group psychology did not come into its own until the same era, and has never settled on any grand scheme similar to the mainstream schools of economics and political science.

Lenin believed in communism, but that the vanguard had to lead the proletariat until they were ready for self-governance - yet the only one who actually encouraged any steps toward that was probably Trotsky. Lenin’s primary concerns where industrialization and building the party into a coherent, ideological cadre. Yet he was soon co-opted by Stalin, who was only interested in totalitarian dictatorship, for which communism was just a rationale, never a purpose.

I think Khrushchev believed in Leninism, and that communism would be a viable alternative to capitalism. Brezhnev and the other hardliners were more nationalistic and wanted a strong military-industrial state to counter generic Western imperialism, and had no problem with an authoritarian government to accomplish those means.

As for your extra credit question, I would say no one of influence still believes in Marxist-Leninist communism. As research progresses in sociology, political science and economics, I cannot think of any serious professor or politician that still believes Marxism is a realistic system. Mainstream socialism has moved beyond Marxism and is more concerned with reforming the market-based capitalist system through democratic means, then its revolutionary overthrow, and few believe that socialism is part of a continuum that leads to communism.

A few professors are still* Marxian*, i.e. believe that Marx’s dialectic materialism and economic theories are valid forms of analysis. They are found more in sociology and history departments than poli-sci departments and very few left in any econ department.

Where can I learn more about this?

A good bio of Marx is “Karl Marx: A Life”, by Francis Wheen. Engels biographies are rarer, but try Tristam Hunt’s “Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels”, published in Britain as “The Frockcoated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels”.

I don’t really know that “greedy” is really the right word for Engels. He pretty much supported the Marxes after they moved to London, going so far as to go to Manchester and run his family’s cotton mills, a job he hated, when he rather would have been running around the radical circles of Europe. And, he pretty much also paid for the upbringing of Freddy Demuth, who was almost certainly not his son (although he may have been Marx’s). And he basically let Marx take sole or primary credit for a lot of their collaborations. So, I think “greedy” is really the wrong term for Engels.

It’s worth remembering that we know Communism is crap because it was tried and it failed. Without that object lesson it would possess the same air of utopian plausibility that libertarianism enjoys today.

I’d argue that ALL the Soviet leaders through Chernenko believed in Communism. They might have had selfish rationalizations for why they deserved to be “more equal than others” but they believed in principle that the Soviet system was superior and would triumph in the long run. When Krushchev said “We will bury you!” he meant it.

FWIW pure Capitalism is about as unrealistic a system as pure Communism is.

Ideology tends to eschew reality.

I’d argue that the Marxist viewpoint continues to this day to be widely “believed,” by most people in the west, although without the utopian grand finale. Modern Western thought is often not only a reaction to, but actually a continuation of Marxist thought.

Do you believe that history can primarily be explained in terms of economics?

Do you believe that political systems (such as the move from hunter-gatherer to farmer, or from absolute to constitutional monarchy) is a function of economic changes (such as population pressures reducing wild game and making it more sensible to farm)?

Do you generally look at economic and political history as a series of steps that most societies go through, with most societies passing through them at different rates? In other words, do you believe that Africa is “underdeveloped” or “got left behind” and the ideal thing would be to “catch up?”

These ideas are largely Marxist. I think you could argue that nearly all modern economics is Marxist, just without the bits about our current “step” being on it’s way out and the speculation about the next step.

Also, the original Russian Revolution, in February of 1917, had nothing to do with Lenin, who was out of the country at the time. It began as a bread riot in St. Petersburg, and ended with the Tsar being forced to abdicate, and the Russian parliament (the Duma) taking over. Alexander Kerensky took charge.

And IIRC, Marx stated that communism would never work in a country like Russia.

Except where it hasn’t. It drives me bonkers when people conflate communism with the USSR.

Then you can’t deny the fact that the Soviets *tried *to implement Communism, and that it’s telling that they couldn’t even do that. You know you have a problem if your system can’t even reach the test stage.

Communism was basically an attempt to cure the problems of “social misery” present in 19th-century industrialised society. It was an ill-fated attempt to be sure (and a perfect case of the cure being worse than the disease), but the problem it was trying to cure was real enough. Engels has been mentioned upthread - he was one of the first to document the plight of the urban poor in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. It’s an interesting, albeit grim, read, and it might help you understand where “that crap” came from. It didn’t come from a world of Starbucks and digital TV, but one where infant mortality approached 50%, and workers were treated like cattle.

True. However, there’s an important difference; Capitalism works just fine (in fact it works better) when there are a lot of people not acting according to its tenets. Communism on the other hand works worse. The comparison of communism and libertarianism is a good one; both are utopian ideologies that in order to work as advertised would require people to consistently act in ways that violate human nature and possess greater than human capabilities.