Marx’s Terrifying Vision of “Raw Communism”
[This article is excerpted from volume 2, chapter 10 of An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (1995).
Another important reason for Marx’s failure to publish was his candid depiction of the communist society in the essay “Private Property and Communism.” In addition to its being philosophic and not economic, he portrayed a horrifying but allegedly necessary stage of society immediately after the necessary violent world revolution of the proletariat, and before ultimate communism is to be finally achieved. Marx’s postrevolutionary society, that of “unthinking” or “raw” communism, was not such as to spur the revolutionary energies of the Marxian faithful.
For Marx took to heart two bitter critiques of communism that had become prominent in Europe. One was by the French mutualist anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who denounced communism as “oppression and slavery,” and to whom Marx explicitly referred in his essay. The other was a fascinating book by the conservative Hegelian monarchist Lorenz von Stein (1815–1890), who had been assigned by the Prussian government in 1840 to study the unsettling new doctrines of socialism and communism becoming rampant in France. Not only did Marx show a “minute textual familiarity” with Stein’s subsequent book of 1842, but he actually based his concept of the proletariat as the foundation and the engine of the world revolution on Stein’s insights into the new revolutionary doctrines as rationalizations of the class interests of the proletariat.1
Most remarkably, Marx admittedly agreed with Proudhon’s, and particularly Stein’s, portrayal of the first stage of the postrevolutionary society, which he agreed with Stein to call “raw communism.” Stein forecast that raw communism would be an attempt to enforce egalitarianism by wildly and ferociously expropriating and destroying property, confiscating it, and coercively communizing women as well as material wealth. Indeed, Marx’s evaluation of raw communism, the stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was even more negative than Stein’s:
In the same way as woman is to abandon marriage for general [i.e. universal] prostitution, so the whole world of wealth, that is, the
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