Marx’s philosophy promised to bring about universal equality, full liberation, and worldwide community. Marxism vowed to fully conquer nature, relieving the human race of scarcity, contingency, alienation, and anxiety. Marx’s aspirations were so striking that vast numbers of people, including Solzhenitsyn, committed themselves to bringing them into being.
Indeed, it is apparent that the aspirations of Marxism are possibly even more utopian that the most virulent anarcho-capitalism. But the article bothered me. Rather than just nodding my head at having my preconceptions stroked, I felt uncomfortable with some of the arguments and conclusions.
The Gulag Archipelago was more than a history of wrongdoing. Tyrants have existed throughout history, but the magnitude of Stalin’s ferocity was unparalleled. Why did people obey a maniac? How could human beings be so cruel? Marx claimed that once the Revolution occurred, there would be no need for the state. As a result, Marxists made no provision for limitations on government or checks on ambition, hoping instead that History would ameliorate conflict. When Stalin took over leadership of the Party, Solzhenitsyn shows, communists could not discern whether he was a psychopath or represented the true direction of progressive history. They were helpless to oppose his ruthless commands.
I struggle to accept that Stalin was any more of a tyrant, any more ferocious than Hitler or Pol Pot or Mao. But more than that, I am confused at the idea that communists could not discern his ruthlessness and were helpless to oppose it. People always have that option. Indeed, many people who opposed Stalin wound up in the gulags for doing so. They just weren't good enough at it.
But anyway, this wasn't the crux of my annoyance.
Solzhenitsyn displays with great force that Marxist ideology motivated both Stalin and his followers to perpetrate the greatest inhumanity in history. Marxists’ goals are idealistic but implausible. Human beings cannot be completely free; they need government to restrain their baser instincts. (Emphasis is mine)
This is where I call bollocks.
Marx said that come the Revolution, the state would wither and die, so having "the" Revolution and bringing into life a Marxist state would kill off the said Marxist state. But that is the opposite of how bureaucracy works. The biggest flaw in every implementation is not that Marxism doesn't provide for a way to restrain "baser instincts", it's that it provides for no limitations on government. Indeed, in every Marxist implementation, the state has spread like a cancer to the judiciary and every other aspect of society. This is the central failure in the Marxist view: the state is a cancer that needs to be kept in check and Marxist societies do nothing to stop it, which is why they always wind up needing fences to keep people in, why they always end up as totalitarian hellholes.
"Socialist" states may well implement more collectivist economic and other policies, but they do maintain independent judiciaries and other means to keep the state in check. I suspect that if this independence ever corrodes sufficiently due to "groupthink" and bad appointments, these states will shortly collapse into totalitarianism.
The more socialist or Marxist a state is, the more power that accrues to the executive. The greater the power or potential power available, the bigger the arsehole it attracts. This is why totalitarianism and socialism or Marxism go hand in hand. It isn't a coincidence that every Marxist country has ended with swathes of dead people. Poor economics may be a factor, but the truth is an untrammelled state is a very desirable target for a psychopath. And having all that power then leads to it being used at the whim of a madman.
I'll go out on a limb here and say every Marxist state is doomed to oppression, slaughter and eventual collapse. Sorry, Marxists. Your man was wrong about many things, but this is the one that leads to the gulag.
Update: I just found this Mises article which, while aiming to prove that Nazism and Bolshevism are both socialist, also fleshes out why socialism leads to totalitarianism.