Marx and the coming of the socialist utopia

Chapter 18: of The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (1945) The Coming of Socialism

In this chapter and the two that follow, Popper tested the coherence of the chain of predictions that Marx made for the coming of socialism following the revolution. He identified three steps in the argument and his strategy was to start by accepting Marx’s assumptions regarding the first two steps and examine whether the third step followed – The socialist, classless utopia. In this chapter Popper concluded that other outcomes were more likely, as noted below.

In the first step of his argument Marx found that the capitalist system was becoming more productive and he decided that this must lead to the accumulation of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The workers become more miserable and exploited. This step will be treated in chapter 20 “Capitalism and its Fate”.

The second step of Marx’s argument goes on from there to make two conclusions: first, that all classes except a small ruling bourgeoisie and a large exploited working class are bound to disappear, or to become insignificant; secondly, that the increasing tension between these two classes must lead to a social revolution. This step will be analysed in the next chapter 19 on “The Social Revolution”.

The third step is the victory of the workers over the bourgeoisie to produce a society consisting of one class only, and, therefore, “a classless society, a society without exploitation; that is to say, socialism.”

In Popper’s view there was no assurance that the workers’ victory must lead to a classless society because whatever unity they might manage to achieve during a “class war” would be most unlikely to survive the end of the conflct with the “class enemy”.

The most likely development is, of course, that those actually in power at the moment of victory — those of the revolutionary leaders who have survived the struggle for power and the various purges, together with their staff—will form a New Class: the new ruling class of the new society, a kind of new aristocracy or bureaucracy; and it is most likely that they will attempt to hide this fact. This they can do, most conveniently, by retaining as much as possible of the revolutionary ideology.

And it seems likely enough that they will be able to make fullest use of the revolutionary ideology if at the same time they exploit the fear of counter-revolutionary developments. In this way, the revolutionary ideology will serve them for apologetic purposes: it will serve them both as a vindication of the use they make of their power, and as a means of stabilizing it; in short, as a new ‘opium for the people’.

More brutal than opium unfortunately.

Chapter 19. The Social Revolution

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11 Responses to Marx and the coming of the socialist utopia

  1. Craig

    So, who gets the wealth? Where does the money come from to create new ideas or technology? Who allows 1 person, 2 or 3 persons or 100 persons or a 1000 persons to pool their money and create wealth opportunities and at what point does someone say ‘that’s enough money for you, the rest is distributed’.

    What a fantasy of a uptopian ideal. Human man conquered neothandral man 100 thousand years ago by the use of abstract thought and ideals i.e. cave paintings (hunting, gathering, hierarchy) and if humans had such a brain to allow such thought of expression and freedom, what hope or right has socialism got to constrain humankind to the level of a herd of cows?

  2. Bruce of Newcastle

    The second step of Marx’s argument goes on from there to make two conclusions: first, that all classes except a small ruling bourgeoisie and a large exploited working class are bound to disappear

    Curiously that seems to be exactly what goes on in socialist societies like Venezuela and North Korea.

    The third step is the victory of the workers over the bourgeoisie to produce a society consisting of one class only, and, therefore, “a classless society

    And that too seems correct, especially of Venezuela. Eventually the pseudobourgeoisie take off with their ill gotten gains and flee to Florida or Moscow, leaving their victims behind in classless squalor.

  3. Ellen of Tasmania

    Curiously that seems to be exactly what goes on in socialist societies

    And crapitalist (crony-capitalist) societies like Australia and the U.S.

    The bigger the government, the bigger the problems, the smaller the middle class.

  4. struth

    There is capitalism, where none of the above happens.
    Then we get varying degrees of socialisism where capitalism becomes stifled and government and corporatism grows.
    As this happens some people see the capitalism corrupted by socialism , Australia being an example, as the failure of capitalism.!
    It isn’t the failure of capitalism but the failure of the political process allowing governments to kill it with increasing corrupt socialism.

  5. anonandon

    I don’t think I’m going to be on the winning side under any scenario so I think I’ll opt out.

  6. Mother Lode

    Then we get varying degrees of socialisism where capitalism becomes stifled and government and corporatism grows.

    I remember going to Uni and seeing Marx referred to almost everywhere among the various political groups – who, of course, through a hopelessly compromised funding system, dominated public discourse on campus.

    So ubiquitous was this that I thought that Marxism must have been some brilliant, unanswerable system of thought which I, alas, could not accept because it was so proudly materialistic while I still held religious beliefs. I felt that I could not argue against it on a plane its adherents would have to accept.

    When I read a bit more however and, for added comedy, looked in the various left-wing pamphlets for sale on campus, I was staggered at how empty it was.

    I realise now that the people clamouring for Marxism weren’t doing so because they they wished for an ideal world. They clamoured for society to be changed along Marxist lines so they would be the new Marxist elite.

    Really drove home what a bunch of middle-class wankers they were.

    There is a passage in Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography where she recounts meeting with a rather prickly and well know intellectual while at the Sorbonne.

    At some point middle-class de Beauvoir said that the most important thing was for people was to find the reason for their existence. The other woman just looked at her and said dismissively something like “It is easy to see you have never been hungry.”

    Middle class idealism always retains its self-absorbed character.

  7. Percy Porcelain

    all classes except a small ruling bourgeoisie and a large exploited working class are bound to disappear

    Well spotted, Bruce. Implement collectivism and the above is exactly what happens.

  8. duncanm

    The most likely development is, of course, that those actually in power at the moment of victory — those of the revolutionary leaders who have survived the struggle for power and the various purges, together with their staff—will form a New Class: the new ruling class of the new society, a kind of new aristocracy or bureaucracy;

    Smart guy that Popper.. though I would add other, more destructive forms of Oligarchies.

    and it is most likely that they will attempt to hide this fact

    indeed.

  9. RobK

     I would add other, more destructive forms of Oligarchies.
    Yes, and these all too often go hand in hand with some of the West’s corporatists, especially when supported by big unions and government.

  10. Dr Fred Lenin

    In the late lamented Soviet Union society was classless ,except for the nomenklatura the aparatchiks and the mass of peasants and workers . Society worked well ,the government pretended to pay the workers and the workers pretended to work , encouraged ably by the organs of peace ,KGB,OGPU informers , gulags etc. During the last years of the communists a friend and his wife went for a trip on the Trans Sib railway an eye opener for them both , I advised him to take two squash balls to use as washbasin plugs as I had read they were unavailable there . My information was correct , they used them daily , “even had one pinched in Moscow at the huge Ukrainie hotel , I told him the central planning commisars had forgotten to permit the rubber factory to make some for some years ,he had tried to buy one at a state hardware store and was told they hadn’t had any for years , narxism at work ,can’t even make a sink plug ,sound familiar? Bit like the crew we have in parliament ? Couldn’t poop in the sea ,they would miss it .

  11. Rafe

    Fred a thin sheet of rubber will do the job for drains of all sizes.

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