Both ideologies have their flaws -- but does it only depend on which one inspires you?
Let’s start with a confession: I am no Marxist.
It dawned on me very early on during my student days that a person inherently wants to be better off than the other individual. Of course there are many who do not fall in this category and are determined to prove their unbridled passion to advocate an equal social status for all.
However, the undeniable fact is that while Marxism may sound idealistic, in reality, it’s application resulted in despotism, limiting of personal freedom, and authoritarianism.
But then, the same can be said of capitalism too.
In the name of transparent democratic systems, the world has seen suppression of dissent, arbitrary arrests of opponents, renditions, and the absolute repudiation of morals.
Not to mention the invasion of other countries based on carefully-concocted illusions fed to the rest of the world to justify military intervention and forceful regime change.
Looking at these two ideologies dispassionately, maybe it would be wise to state that both have evils, one possibly had more and, therefore, stumbled.
Misapplication is the culprit
There was a recent article which vehemently denounced everything about Marxism, extolling the glorious side of an open capitalist society with freedom of the individual.
One argument was the Marx’s ideology, which formed the basis of socialism, floundered wherever it was applied.
Perhaps that allegation is driven more by visceral antipathy, lacking a little in logic. What failed was the wrong application of the theories and social ideas Marx propagated.
Prior to the global collapse of communism in 1990, many countries which were within the communist bloc experienced tenets of socialism forced upon them.
At a time where Cold War dynamics created a sharp, irreconcilable divide, the only way seemed to be to severely enforce respective ideologies in the two opposing camps.
The communist sides imposed their doctrine on the people with the mistake of cutting civil liberties whereas the capitalists did the same thing only honey-coated it with the lure of luxury and making it more savoury by highlighting individual freedom.
In fact, in the 1950s and later in the 80s, rumblings of discontent in Hungary and Poland did not want an end to their socialist systems but some reforms which would allow religion, better wages, and some essential civil freedoms.
Any ideology will work as long as there is room for some form of freedom for the citizen -- a political scientist once remarked.
Sixties counter culture, anti-war sentiment, and the Marxist messiah
Capitalism’s darkest period was the 60s, when a new surge of youth culture in the West take an anti-war stance.
Blending with a non-conformist social movement, it challenged existing authorities plus their interpretation of what is right and what is not.
The rebellious 60s youth culture was an emphatic ideology in itself, because it was neither communist nor capitalist but took elements from both, topping it with an unbridled youthful zest. Some sociologists take a dim view of the youth rebellion against established systems slating free-mixing, drug-taking, and all the radical ideas it espoused. Good or evil, that psychedelic explosion happened because time demanded it, and the evolution of society craved it.
In strict assessment, the 60s youth counter-culture possibly led to too many negative consequences today -- what lingers is the fascination surrounding its flamboyance. Any talk of the time is laced with an inexplicable aura of romance.
In the same manner, Marxism had its period when it seemed to be the answer to imperialistic designs creating suffering for the masses.
When the Castro-Che-led Cuban revolution toppled a corrupt military regime which had been known for its subservience to the US, the rest of the world looked at it as a victory for the masses against tyranny, supported by a superpower: A David versus Goliath story, with the former winning.
The magnetism sprung from the fact that a bunch of rag-tag soldiers living in the hills had come and engineered the fall of an entrenched military-led system that wasn’t working.
Marxist guerillas did not turn Cuba into a paradise -- though Che and his lot enflamed similar struggles in other countries where the regular people were fighting to overthrow autocrats supported, alas, mostly by capitalists.
No one takes/took a capitalist leader as a hero
Marxism’s coercive aspect resulted in unjust treatment of millions leading to countless deaths. That is a fact though once more, it’s the forceful imposition of the tenets which resulted in such brutality. But then, capitalism, a derivative of imperialism, also created unequal societies, leading to simmering discontent.
At the height of the Vietnam conflict, all over the world, common folk sided with the fighters of Vietnam.
When in Congo, Belgian forces were trying to undermine the nationalistic aspirations of Patrice Lumumba, with tacit support from Western powers, across the globe it was the vile face of capitalism that was evident.
Interestingly, wherever in the world there was a mass uprising against what the general people thought to be oppressive, inspiration was sought, inevitably, from Che Guevara, Castro, or Lumumba -- all Marxists.
In 1971, when Bangladesh was fighting for its independence, our freedom fighters did not put up the images of Winston Churchill or Douglas McArthur as their icons. In fact, no one ever did.
When the anti-autocracy movement in the 80s reached a crescendo in Bangladesh, the crusaders on the streets invoked the undying resolve of Che, not some capitalist tycoon.
It’s all about reform
Communist countries are thriving in today’s world with their ideology distinctly amended. Look at China, all capitalist accoutrements are there, people are getting rich, luxury is no longer a sin, pursuit of personal wealth is not frowned upon with the top level of government maintaining its unique character.
Same goes for Vietnam, Laos, and possibly Cuba will soon join the fray. Whether its Marxist or Maoist, with certain reforms, certain “isms” can survive in a new era.
Humayun Azad, a noted Bangladeshi social thinker, writer, and teacher once said: “There is a Freudian theory to the fall of socialism across the world -- it had Marxist, Leninist allure but no sexual magnetism.”
I personally feel that, in 2018, communist countries have added that much-needed element and, therefore, Marxism in a new format may not be a failure at all.
An undeniable truth: Marxist revolutionaries have always been the motivation for uprisings against oppression. I call that a success -- a big one.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist, teaching at the University of Dhaka.