What do Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek have in common?

Dazzling social insights (ideology, markets as information-processing) combined with unspeakably bad political judgment.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

20 thoughts on “What do Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek have in common?”

    1. Here’s one: Marx totally failed to understand the European Revolutions of 1848 (and most particularly the Third French Revolution) and his predictions about them proved wildly inaccurate. None of those revolutions lasted more than about a year and the governments that replaced them were very reactionary. It turned out that industrial societies were not particularly ripe for revolutionary change despite Marx’s prediction that those societies would be among the first to experience such change. In fact, every supposedly communist revolution took place in a primarily agrarian country. There has never been a communist revolution in an industrialized country.

      1. this would be down to efficient state repression, not an inherent theoretical problem. there were soviets in germany and hungary after WW1 and in st petersburg in 1905, but they all got arrested/murdered out of existence. this was communism in the making, and is a different kettle of fish entirely to the bolshevik revolutions of later years (whether russian or chinese or veitnamese) which is the sort of thing marx surely didn’t have in mind.

      2. Mitch,

        Interesting. Would it be too much to see specific quotes? I mean, far from me to doubt your expert opinion; but you know, in this kind of subject it’s always best to keep to the formalisms.

    2. I’d start with his strong dislike of and categorical opposition to liberal democracy and democratic reformers, such as Lassalle and Schulze-Delisch.

      In the end, the 20th century proved Lassalle and Schulze-Delisch right and Marx wrong.

      1. That’s not why he was against Lasalle. Part of it was no doubt personality conflict, but the political reason was Lasalle’s willingness to support Bismarck over bourgeois democrats.

        One thing Marx was not was a categorical opponent of liberal democracy.

        1. See, for example, his derisive discussion of “the free state” in the Critique of the Gotha Programme (scare quotes in the original). Marx was blind to a lot of the differences between various political systems. Everything that wasn’t communist or in transition to communism was just a different shade of capitalism, with no possible route to redemption. A non-communist free state was a contradiction in terms to him. In his mind, all ways led, inevitably, to revolution and thus he had little use for reforms, either.

          This was in stark contrast to the Lassallean vision of a society where equal suffrage and equal rights would also ensure social fairness. Lassalle was in many ways a bit naive (as evidenced in “Macht und Recht”, where he seems to express a belief in democracy as a corrective force not based on evidence, but as an article of faith). In the end, however, he proved to be a better judge of the human condition than Marx.

          If you look at the Gotha Program (upon which Marx heaped much scorn in general), it was eventually implemented almost in its entirety, much of it by conservative governments (it was Wilhelm II who first introduced a law that banned labor on Sundays, limited the maximum number of working hours in a day, and prohibited child labor).

          Conversely, insightful and theoretically brilliant as Marx’s analysis of the economic conditions of the 19th century was (at least in parts), his prescription for the treatment of the disease was false, wildly off the mark, and in the end caused untold suffering.

          1. The Critique of the Gotha Program is a dense text, but it can’t really mean Marx was opposed to democracy or social reform — since there is a whole lot of counter-evidence. It’s true that he still thought there would at some point in the future be an event called the “revolution”, but in countries with democratic elections, he thought this could happen through the ballot box.

            I think if you re-read the passage, Marx starts with a quibble that the SPD should not want to set the state free, but then enters into two more substantive criticisms of the “free state”. First, it isn’t a full call for a democratic republic. Marx sort of concedes that this make sense in light of censroship (“wisely so, since the circumstances demand caution”), but he’s obviously unhappy and thinks Lasalle is sucking up to Bismarck.

            More troubling is the passage about the dictatorship of the proletariat, a phrase that Lenin made much of. I’m going to duck out of this discussion at this point, though, because I have to work.

  1. @Corey: I’ll give you a BOGOF: That socialism would sweep the world like a wave, and that once it was in place, the state would atrophy. Judging by the former Soviet Union, it took root only in Russia and countries under Russian control, and the state, as we all know, grew massively.

  2. Can you give specific examples of Marx’s bad political judgment — especially after 1849? I actually can’t think of a position he took that a centrist New Democrat wouldn’t agree with in retrospect. He was suspicious of Louis Bonaparte, supproted Chartism, wanted a broad working class party in Germany, supported the Republicans in the US, thought the Paris Commune was a mistake but defended it after-the-fact, and wanted Russia to lose every war it fought. By all accounts, he was a difficult man to work with politically, but for the most part he was kept busy expelling anarchists and complaining about Lasalle.

    1. There’s something to what you are suggesting especially about Louis Bonaparte. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon was one of the best thing I read in school. (In particular, I have often thought that Marx’s critique of Louis Bonaparte was very sound although I personally think that for all of his failings, the French would have been better off with Louis Phillip I than without him if some way could have been found to keep him after his disastrous military adventures and abandonment of Paris). He certainly had what seem to me to be some sound and you are right that they are often, surprisingly, centrist ideas and positions, Nevertheless, when one’s main claim to fame is expertise about revolutions (and one is a co-author of “The Communist Manifesto”), the fact that he got basically everything wrong about all of the revolutionary movements of his time means that, really, what the man said or thought after 1849 is always going to be eclipsed by a colossal failure. It’s just too much to come back from.

  3. “Marx … supported Chartism”. I thought Marx’ affection for the British labour movement was singularly un-reciprocated. English radicals, who’s been fighting millowners for 50 years, thought him a longwinded foreign Charlie-come-lately.

    1. During the First International period, Marx was a close ally of the British trade unionists against the anarchists. We don’t have a lot of evidence of everything they might have thought about him, but he was basically *their* incomprehensibly theoretical foreginer. After the First International period, Marx wasn’t active in politics at all. British Labour leaders have always been suspicious of intellectuals of any kind, and in the late nineteenth century were pretty thoroughly nonconformist, but Marx and Engeels were undoubtedly closer to them than any other atheist European radicals.

  4. None of the examples offered here come close to what we’re talking about with Hayek. In Kleinman’s original statement he counterpoises Hayek’s and Marx’s analytical principles with their actual judgments about contemporary politics. And by judgments we have to use the standard of Hayek’s support for Pinochet’s regime: i.e., a taking sides in an actual political battle. Saying Marx misunderstood the direction of 1848 isn’t quite the same; the analogous example in Hayek’s case would be his mistaken prediction that social democratic states in Europe lead to totalitarianism. So we have to come up with something like Hayek’s endorsement of Pinochet. The closest I can think of is Marx’s support for the French in Algeria favoring the US over Mexico — though as many have pointed out, his support for colonial adventures was mitigated by his support for anti-colonial movements (Hayek demonstrated no comparable nuance or subtlety when it came to Pinochet’s Chile). So all in all, I think the original statement Kleinman offered here really doesn’t stand up.

    1. I’ve been a bit of a Marx apologist here, but there’s also his and Engels’ categorical opposition to self-determination for “reactionary peoples” (i.e. Slavs) and support for German and Magyar nationalism instead.

    2. But at the first victorious uprising of the French proletariat … the Austrian Germans and the Magyars will gain their freedom and take a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will scatter the Slav Sonderbund [alliance], and annihilate all these small pigheaded nations even to their very names. The next world war will not only cause reactionary classes and dynasties to disappear from the face of the earth, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that too is an advance.’ (F. Engels, The Magyar Struggle, January 1849)

  5. Perhaps we can agree that we would all take Karl Marx over F.A. Hayek, but would also take Salma Hayek over Chico Marx.

  6. None of this matters much, because neither Marx nor Hayek are important because of their take on Chile or Czech nationalism. Robin’s enterprise is very much historical gotcha, kind of like Jonah Goldberg.

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