-Dr. Rahul Shastri
Although widely known as the founder of Modern Communism, Marx wrote very little on the ideal of communism [Sayers 2014: 9, Auerbach & Skott 1993: 195] Only scattered fragments throw light on his ideal communism [Burkett 2014: 197]. On the other hand, his writings on communism as a movement and as an ideology are more complete and less scattered.
In these fuller writings, Marx brought the sword and sentiment of communism, back together in the ideal of a proletarian revolution. The sword and sentiment had been parted since the murder of Mazdak, except perhaps for a dubious revival under Babak Khorramdin, himself a Mazdakite. Possibly for these reasons, Muhammad Iqbal called Marx (reportedly) a modern reincarnation of Mazdakite thought .
COMMUNISM CRITICISED IN THE WORDS OF MARX
What Iqbal did not know (and many others still do not know) is that Marx began his journey to communism with a trenchant criticism of its known forms. Made in 1844, his remarks on ‘crude, raw, thoughtless communism’, on ‘political communism’, are a damning indictment of today’s state socialism and communism. Let us look at Marx’s views briefly.
When political communism triumphs, private property is abolished. But then, says Marx, the community itself becomes the universal capitalist. This new communal capitalist makes everybody a worker, pays everybody equal wages. There is an urge to overshadow talent, merit etc. by arbitrary treatment. All wealth becomes prostituted with the community. The ruling sentiment is that if something cannot be directly physically possessed by all, it does not deserve to exist. The personality of man is negated in every sphere. In Marx’s own words:
. . .“ … communism is … annulled private property — at first as universal private property … it wants to destroy everything which is not capable of being possessed by all … It wants to disregard talent, etc., in an arbitrary manner. … The category of the worker is not done away with, but extended to all men. The relationship of private property persists as the relationship of the community to the world of things. … the entire world of wealth … passes from … private property to a state of universal prostitution with the community. This type of communism … negates the personality of man in every sphere.” [Marx 1844]
Under communism, adds Marx, general envy becomes the ruling power. Hiding behind envy, greed re-establishes itself and rules, albeit differently from capitalism. General envy prompts a levelling down: an “urge to reduce things to a common level”, reducing everybody to a ‘preconceived minimum’. There is an abstract negation of the entire world of culture and civilisation. In his own words:
. . . “General envy constituting itself as a power is the disguise in which greed re-establishes itself and satisfies itself, only in another way … against wealthier private property in the form of envy and the urge to reduce things to a common level …
Crude communism* is … this levelling-down proceeding from the preconceived minimum. … the abstract negation of the entire world of culture and civilisation … the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and crude man who has few needs …” [Marx 1844]
The most brutish form that such communism takes is that of opposition to marriage and support to the idea of a community of women.
. . . “The annulment of private property – crude communism – is thus merely a manifestation of the vileness of private property, which wants to set itself up as the positive community system.” [Marx 1844]
WAS MARX POINTING AT SOCIALISM?
There are some reasons to argue that Marx was actually worrying about Socialism when he made these remarks.
First, Marx mentions Proudhon as this section starts. He wrote these manuscripts in Paris, where Proudhon was denouncing communism or communal ownership as ‘oppression and slavery’. This criticism seems to be reflected in Marx’s remarks.
Secondly, the idea of ‘raw or crude’ communism (der rohe Kommunismus) was coined earlier by Lorenz von Stein. Stein said that French raw communism aimed not to improve social conditions, but only to incite one class against another for an upheaval without knowing what would follow. It was a tendency to put egalitarianism into practice in a wild melee of expropriation and destruction of property, communisation of wealth and women [Tucker 1972: 154-5]. Again all these sentiments seem to be reflected in Marx’s own remarks.
Irrespective of whether Marx intended to criticise socialism or some undefined ‘raw or crude’ communism (der rohe Kommunismus), his comments are the most damning criticism of communist socialism coming from the pen of the founder of modern communism.
NOTES AND REFERENCES https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazdak#cite_note-ya56-1, visited 24-2-2021.  The Paris Manuscripts of Marx also known as “The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844”, were first published only in 1932. It is possible that Iqbal had formed his views by then.
Auerbach Paul & Skott Peter (1993) ‘Capitalist Trends and Socialist Priorities’. Paul Auerbach and Peter Skott, Science & Society, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Summer).
Burkett Paul (2014) ‘Marx’s Vision of Sustainable Human Development’ in Communism in the 21st Century vol. 1: The Father of Communism: Rediscovering Marx’s Ideas, ed. Shannon Brincat, Praeger, 2014
Marx Karl The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
Robert C. Tucker (1972) Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press
Sayers Sean (2014) ‘Marx on Property, Needs and Labour in Communist Society’, in Communism in the 21st Century vol. 1: The Father of Communism: Rediscovering Marx’s Ideas, ed. Shannon Brincat, Praeger, 2014.