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Communism remains a popular belief^1, despite the dismal performance of the Communist states in terms of public prosperity and human rights.^2 As far as I can judge, there are three currents in attempting to rehabilitate communism:

  1. Communism in USSR, China, etc. was not real communism. Although this is a popular point of view, it is largely unsustainable when Marx writings are compared with the rather faithful implementations of his ideology in the communist states (see, e.g., the 10 point program outlined in The Communist Manifesto.)
  2. Reinterpreting Marx in modern terms - perhaps Marx would appreciate many social achievements of the modern capitalist societies in the 150 years since his work, so that he would incorporate them into his ideology and adopt non-violent political struggle (rather than calling for an overthrow of the existing economic and social order and dismissing left-wing political parties "duped" by the ruling political class into thinking that they can change the system without breaking it.)
  3. Dismissing Marx altogether and appealing to pre-Marxist communist movements.

I am mainly interested in 2. and 3. (since 1. has been recently covered in another thread.) Who are the modern ideologues of Communism? What are the principle texts to read? What are the key ideas and how do they diverge with traditional/literal understanding of Marx?

Related questions:
What are the modern arguments for Communism?
Should we define capitalism and communism?
What are the main differences between different types of Marxism?


^1 See, e.g., 2020 report on U.S. attitudes towards Socialism, Communism and Collectivism by the Victims of Communism Memorial foundation:

  • 18% of Gen Z and 13% of Millennials think communism is a fairer system than capitalism and deserves consideration in America.
  • 30% of Gen Z has a favorable view of Marxism, up 6% from 2019, compared to 27% of Millennials, down 9% from 2019.
    [...]
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans say they are unaware that the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for more deaths than Nazi Germany.

^2 The Black Book of Communism puts the number of the victims of communism at 100 million, whereas the massive migration that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the Eastern Europe eagerly embracing Western capitalism speak for the economic performance.
See also 10 key takeaways about public opinion in Europe 30 years after the fall of communism by Pew Research Center.

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    Žižek is a prominent academic discussing Marxism in the present day. There are many videos of his talks on Youtube.
    – DannyH
    Apr 27, 2023 at 16:00
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    What do you mean by communism, if you're rejecting traditional communism, Marx and his tradition? I think this is likely to be far too vague a question to answer, potentially covering as diverse people as modern left-wing anarchists, syndicalists, Naxalite Maoism and other neo-Maoist peasant movements, the Chinese Communist Party, Cuba, left-wing Christian movements, guild socialism (and its Catholic and other variants), neo-fascist movements that include economically communist elements, and possibly democratic socialists.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 27, 2023 at 19:20
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    I haven't DV, but I suspect this would be difficult to summarize. On one hand you have "Xi Jinping Thought" that is required reading by (hundreds) of millions, but on the other hand any Western reviews of that have been rather dismissive (as being full of platitudes and the like) so not exactly inherently influential. And the Western Marxist spectrum is probably very fragmented as Stuart F hinted. Apr 27, 2023 at 19:43
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    "Communism remains a popular belief..." Maybe citing some social science studies for that would be appropriate. I could imagine that the extreme left advocating for communism and not just social democracy, aren't that many overall. May 2, 2023 at 9:08

3 Answers 3

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Not sure this makes for a suitable answer it's more of a critique of the question without being able to point you to specific thinkers (as you requested), but it's likely going to be too long for a comment...

Like the first problem is in the Definition of Communism. Translating from the German Wiki of that topic it could refer to 1 of 4 things:

  1. An utopian model of society, based on ideals of social equality and freedom of it's members with collective property and problem solving.
  2. economic and political ideologies based on the theories of Marx, Engels and Lenin that aim at the creation of a society free from coercion and class
  3. Political movements and parties aiming to transition towards communism and to enact the theoretical ideologies
  4. An exonym (not self-description but outsider label) attributed to the various dictatorships that emerged from those listed in 3. (USSR, China, etc) which are ruled under the hegemony of a communist party.

You seem to be dead set on the 4th definition and convinced on the fact that 2nd and 3rd inevitably not only lead to 4th but AIM for 4th. Which arguably doesn't make that appealing at all.

However in reality pretty much all appeal of that idea stems from the fact that people like the 1st definition and think it's a goal worth pursuing. And that's not hard to comprehend, it's still something that would be nice which is something that is agreed upon even by people who vigorously reject people in the 2nd and 3rd definition groups. Also it's imaginable, like utopian in the sense of "not there", but thinkable and most arguments against communism completely ignore it this part. An the alternative to that ideal is a unequal unfree society in which property is owned by a privileged minority that rules on a whim. Which would be awful. And that it would be awful is agreed upon by pretty much all ideologies following from that liberal tradition that overthrew such a privileged upper class who held social and political power and enforced an inequality.

So not only do people in self-proclaimed "liberal societies" rarely object to the key ideal, they usually don't even want to do that. Like apart from fascists and (religious/fanatic) conservatives who self-declare a positive view on authoritarian rule, most would rather reject those claims and at least pay lip service to a free and equal society when talking about their goals.

Now with that in mind in should be obvious that the USSR and China are a failure with respect to the 1st definition, not a success. Whether they are faithful to Marx (who also used 1st as his definition as his stated goal) is completely irrelevant. If they were and then failed, then that would mean that Marx failed as well. And no that should not result in a pearl clutching moment, that guy lived nearly 200 years ago in the onset period of industrial capitalism and thought of socialism as an economic science, so failure and adaption to new data should have been the consequence rather than dogmatic following... For example, the 10 point program that you mention from the communist manifesto is actually criticized as being outdated by ... Marx/Engels themselves in the preface to the later versions of that manifesto, which argue that they just keep it because it's become a historical document by then and they didn't want to temper with it.

Likewise the Vanguard party approach of Lenin is something that Engels had apparently already criticized in 1890 when talking about the things learned from the Paris Commune.

So the concerning part is not that Marx was wrong about things, the more concerning part is that he was right about things and how some of his descriptions from 170 years ago are still relevant today because some things haven't significantly changed since then. Like capitalism is still a system that contradicts this liberal ideal of the 1st definition in various ways chief among them the social and economic inequality that it produces and that isn't addressed by the market itself. The fact that left to it's own devices the social and economic capital moves upwards rather than trickling down. The description of the alienation from one's own labor by no longer being in charge of your own production. Like seriously capitalists love to talk about economic freedom but the most common form of income is employment meaning the performance of dependent work under the conditions of another person, so pretty much economic unfreedom... Like it gives people a huge psychological pleasure to DIY shit whether that is herding chicken or woodworking, arts and crafts being in charge of ones work is important and it's a component very lacking in most employment situations.

So the most prevalent reasons for a continued popularity of communism is likely that the ideal is appealing and that the current system is still lacking with respect to it's own ideals (which are most often formulated quite similarly or at least advertised as such). So you have a positive image and a necessity to search for alternatives.

And neither is addressed in most discussions by capitalists. They compare the economic output of countries with world dominating empires, to those of 3rd world countries after revolutions and civil wars. They point to dictatorships and argue "that's bad", which is agreeable but usually lacks the actual argument how from A follows B. And they don't address the flaws of their own system but rather point at it's economic and military supremacy, which is again not a good argument.

Though to be fair while what is attractive to communism is largely the 1st definition. If you look for "communists" and communist movements unfortunately the most prevalent and "successful" (in terms of scale and military power) have been those that fall under the 4th definition usually based on movements of the 3rd definition who more or less faithfully but nonetheless dogmatic followed the theories of the 2nd definition. So chances are if you actually follow "communists" you end up being made a useful idiot to those in the 3rd definition. However that doesn't really dispel the 1st definition or solve the problems of the current system.

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  • Great answer. One should also note that the current forms of democracies around the world also suffer from similar lacunae when compared to the idealist / utopian idea of democracy - an major one being that in many major democracies only 30% to 50% of the voter-base actually vote. (Note that I am not implying that political communism is somehow incompatible with democracy - in India, the Communist party and the Communist-Marxist regularly fight elections and have even governed some states after winning a majority).
    – sfxedit
    May 2, 2023 at 14:48
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    "convinced on the fact that 2nd and 3rd inevitably not only lead to 4th but AIM for 4th" I don't think OP believes they aim that way, and I don't see how you've concluded thus. I won't speak for OP, but I do think the evidence is overwhelming that they do inevitably lead that way, however. It's not hard to reason out an expectation of things turning out that way, either. May 8, 2023 at 13:52
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    ... the alienation from one's own labor by no longer being in charge of your own production. This is a feature of the factory system of production, not capitalism per se. The Arts & Crafts movement tried to fight this and failed, because artisanal work is inherently much less productive than a factory. Jun 16, 2023 at 9:22
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    @haxor789 Rather, its hard to imagine a modern technological civilisation without the factories. Mass production is orders of magnitude cheaper than artisanal. So that implies a car factory where someone spends every working day screwing in the front passenger seats of 2 cars per minute. The economic system under which they do this is irrelevant to the basic nature of the work. Jun 16, 2023 at 13:55
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    @haxor789 I can imagine one might feel a bit better about mindless repetitive work if you knew you were getting a share of the profits, but that's about it. I doubt that being a member of a co-op makes that much difference to e.g. a John Lewis checkout person. Jun 16, 2023 at 14:14
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+100

1. Communism in USSR, China, etc. was not real communism. Although this is a popular point of view, it is largely unsustainable when Marx writings are compared with the rather faithful implementations of his ideology in the communist states (see, e.g., the 10 point program outlined in The Communist Manifesto.)

I think you're view that this is a shallow analysis is accurate to a degree. The nuance I would like to add is that Marx didn't necessarily view Communism as a system of government, rather as a state that humanity could achieve. Based on his writing, Marx's vision was clearly Utopian even though he and Engles criticized utopian socialists’ attempts to imagine a perfect society as undemocratic, unnecessary and impossible, though he had great respect for Charles Fourier and Robert Owen. There ample evidence that his vision of Communism was Utopian in his own words.

Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man;

communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being—a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man—the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution. (pp. 96–97)

To understand what Marx meant by Communism, you have to look at the problem he is attempting to solve: Alienation.

From The Utopian Vision of Karl Marx, Patrick Coby writes.

Standing between man and his destiny, however, is the stubborn fact of alienation. Historical man is alienated from his fellows, and so his political life is riven by class division and class struggle. He also is personally alienated from the artist within, thus his work-a-day life is a drudgery and enslavement. In order forman to realize his potential and to lead alife befitting his true nature, he must find the means to rid himself of the shackles of alienation.

In Eestranged Labour Marx writes,

The relationship of the worker to labour engenders the relation to it of the capitalist, or whatever one chooses to call the master of labour. Prívate property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence of alienated labour, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself (p. 79). 4

Marx writes that private property is not the cause of alienation, but a result of alienation. Later he writes that the act of labor itself is the source of his alienation; He expands on this idea to suggest that labor due to a physical need is the source of man's alienation and refers to it as alienated labor or estrange labor. This is also echoed by Marx in his essay "On the Jewish Question." Marx argues that the private rights of civil society, the 'Rights of Man', are simply an expression of alienation, which Marx calls "Judaism, hucksterism, egoism."

To Marx, alienation caused by labor as a result of need is the problem that needs to be resolved. The problem is scarcity that causes competition and alienation and the resolution is material abundance.

Coby writes,

Need causes alienation which in turn causes private property and class divisions. Classlessness, therefore, is a direct consequence of an economy of abundance: once provided with material abundance, the individual is able to break the chains of physical necessity and enter into spiritual communion with his fellow citizens who seem to him as comrades, no longer as competitors

Based on Marx's Utopian vision, you could make the case that 'Real Communism has never been tried' because it is not a thing that could be 'tried'. Marx's suggestions were geared toward achieving the state of Communism where alienation as a result of labor to satisfy physical need is eradicated and you labor to satisfy your creative impulses. This ultimately requires a positive transcendence because obviously, what is considered a 'physical need' changes drastically over time and labor to satisfy that need produces alienation. Coby again writes,

Scarcity will persist--whether real or imagined; and with scarcity will come divisiveness, alienation, and the perpetuation of class society.

This idea invokes all sorts of problems that Communist regimes attempted to deal with in various way. One of the issues is love and family, for example. Early Communists were considered anti-family for good reason. Marx and Engles were much tamer about the family than others, but from the Communist Manifesto they write:

Abolition [Aufhebung] of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists. On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution. The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.

2. Reinterpreting Marx in modern terms - perhaps Marx would appreciate many social achievements of the modern capitalist societies in the 150 years since his work, so that he would incorporate them into his ideology and adopt non-violent political struggle (rather than calling for an overthrow of the existing economic and social order and dismissing left-wing political parties "duped" by the ruling political class into thinking that they can change the system without breaking it.)

There are many modern ideological descendants of Marx to analyze, Marx's work was highly influential. There are social advancements that Marx would probably appreciate, but I don't think he would attribute much credit to them; These would probably be used as examples of the Bourgeois class manipulating the Proletariat into cooperating within the Bourgeois structure.

Marx's ideas have been generalized and evolved quite a bit since his life. I will note that many people that revere Marx or who today would describe themselves as Marxists in the classical sense, generally do not agree with the assertion that these groups are descendants of Marx's philosophy. Many of these strains of Marxism have risen out of the intersection of Marxist philosophy and Post Modernism (PoMo). Classical Marxists tend to refute PoMo and suggest it is actually an ancestor of Hegelian thought and any similarities to Marxist thought occurs via that common ancestry. Many people who have studied Marx will even suggest that the PoMo spin-offs are actually at odds with Marxism because all other class conflicts are an explicit distraction from the real one. I tend to disagree with this assertion due to the fact that PoMo is a direct descendant of Critical Theory. Critical Theory was developed by a group of Marxists who wanted to distance themselves from classical (economic) Marxism but combined it’s principles with psychology and other philosophers and applied it to society and culture. PoMo ideas are fundamentally Marxist in origin. Another critique offered by classical Marxists is that some of the philosophies that bear the Marxist branding and rhetoric are not actually Marxism, but use the influential rhetoric to manipulate people into supporting the philosophy. The common theme of all these critiques is that Classical Marxists tend to reject anything that expands Marx's philosophy too far from his original work. The primary issue with that is every group who does expand his work tends to arrive at fairly similar conclusions, and classical Marxists, at least as far as I've seen, do not put much effort in rebuking the ideologies that invoke Marx's name and rhetoric. Additionally, these bastard child philosophies that Classical Marxists do not claim are more actually more prevalent today than Classical Marxism. This makes sense because Marx was highly influential and a lot of people were inspired to expand his work, many groups have obviously expanded it further than he envisioned or perhaps would have appreciated, but that does not change the fact that they are extensions of his work and bear his name. Ironically, Classical Marxists tend to not offer such a measured view of Capitalism, instead referring to it as a bogeyman and the source of all problems and exploitation in society (which Marx didn't even do, he claimed capital was a symptom of the real problem: Alienation.)

Patrick Kilroy summarizes Modern Marxist lineage nicely:

-- Michel Foucault was trained by a Marxist theorist. He expressly targeted “bourgeois capitalism”. He regularly analyses society through the lens of economic classes. By making power and the will to power the primary force of history, the materialist struggle between classes is simply extended to a struggle between all people/groups. His work is categorically influenced by Marxist thought among existentialism and the psychoanalysts, DESPITE his clashes with puritanical Marxist individuals. (His viewpoint was heterodox, not antithetical).

-- The Frankfurt school (Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno etc), influenced by Marx + Hegel + the psychoanalysts, sought explicitly to improve upon Marxism by filling in the gaps in its theories.

-- Antonio Gramsci, thought of as the first postmodernist or proto-postmodernist (who influenced the Frankfurt school and others), was another heterodox Marxist who criticised ruling classes for their oppression through “cultural hegemony”. (Similarities to Foucault are obvious).

-- Fredric Jameson, another Marxist Postmodernist. Influenced in part by Sartre (who himself had an apparently contradictory relationship with Marxism).

-- Jacques Derrida, though not a Marxist, contributed to shaping Postmodern thought in such a way that it was comfortable in holding many contradictions in its mind at once. Deconstructionism and aporia broke down conceptions of objective truth, opening the door to relativism, in which postmodernists today are quite happy to dwell, using it to paradoxically justify their Foucauldian critique of the wielding of power in society. (It should be noted in the name of fairness that this was NOT how Derrida intended his ideas to be used nor how he viewed them himself).

It seems painstakingly obvious when you investigate the influences and histories of postmodern thinkers that many of them have their roots in Marxism or Marxist progenies. There are those, like Lyotard who unequivocally distance themselves from Marx, but they do not outnumber those who don’t. The history of philosophy is filled to bursting with thinkers and ideologies which are contemporary, in competition with one another and yet intertwined. Postmodernism rejects grand narratives and yet is itself a grand-narrative that asserts all truth is interpretation. Implied by this is that history is just a long series of powerful people forcing “their truth” on others. This bears striking resemblance the Marxist view of history that is a long series of oppressors forcing such things as “the opiate of the masses” on those they dominate.

Its paradoxes do not weaken it because it is meant to demonstrate the paradoxical nature of how humans engage with reality. The Postmodern response to being called contradictory could easily be to claim that “contradiction” is a logocentric term that privileges Western Logic over emotionally experienced truth, and should not be used to oppress that minority viewpoint.

In rejecting the strict materialism of Marxism, postmodernists sought to upgrade and revamp it, not destroy it. They were antagonistic toward Marxists in the same way a Stalinist was toward Trotskyism, or Protestantism was toward Catholicism.

Probably one of the most influential modern descendants of Marxist thought is Paulo Freire from Brazil, however, he is no longer among the living so applying the 'modern' label to him is probably a slight stretch. However, his work to frame education and literacy in Marxist philosophy has influenced nearly (if not all) educational institutions in the West.

From what I can tell, Modern Marxist thought can be generalized then as the following:

  1. Society is only understood as a class struggle between oppressed classes and oppressor classes.
  2. Society generates humanity. By extension, change the societal institutions (government, culture, language) to change the man who in turn produces society.
  3. All aspects of society must be continually destroyed and rebuilt to ultimately achieve a state of classless transcendence.
  4. Anything that regenerates the existing society must be targeted: Inheritance, private property, education, family structures, hetero-normativity, patriarchy, whiteness, literacy, etc.
  5. Those who are awakened to the class struggles are most equipped to lead the State, and it is a moral responsibility to take control of it via Revolution.
  6. The new State, under the auspices of the Awakened, must consume all aspects of production, society, and culture.
  7. The oppressors must be oppressed until they have paid appropriate penance for being part of the oppressor class as determined by the awakened.

These principles are most present to varying degrees in what are derogatorily called 'wokeness' or some other variation by their opponents, or generally 'Cultural Marxism' to the chagrin of Classical Marxists. Some examples:

Critical Race Theory Critical Race Theory is the belief that fundamental organizing principle of society is racism, and that this racism was created by white people specifically to oppress people of other races, and that white people maintain that racism so that they can maintain their own advantage in society.

Capital is replaced with whiteness. Its ideology is white supremacy. Its winners are whites and white-adjacent. Its losers are people of color. Either of these can become anti-racists when awakened to race consciousness. The structure of this society is enforced by systemic racism, which is both materially and structurally deterministic. Its goal is the abolition (or transcendence) of whiteness.

Examples of its Marxist roots: Patrisse Cullors co-founder of Black Lives Matter, "Myself and Alicia, in particular, are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories."

"Am I a Marxist? … I do believe in Marxism. It’s a philosophy that I learned really early on in my organizing career… the U.S. is so good at propaganda and being like … it has sold the idea of the American dream, and that’s tied into capitalism and wealth. It’s much harder to sell communism … ."

The Combahee River Collective,

We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation...Although we are in essential agreement with Marx's theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.

Delgado,

So we gathered at that convent for two and a half days, around a table in an austere room with stained glass windows and crucifixes here and there-an odd place for a bunch of Marxists-and worked out a set of principles. Then we went our separate ways. Most of us who were there have gone on to become prominent critical race theorists, including Kim Crenshaw, who spoke at the Iowa conference, as well as Mani Matsuda and Charles Lawrence, who both are here in spirit. Derrick Bell, who was doing critical race theory long before it had a name, was at the Madison workshop and has been something of an intellectual godfather for the movement. So we were off and running.

Queer Theory In Queer Theory, normalcy replaces capital. Its taret is cisheteronormativity, which is the idea that it is normal to be straight. Its winners are cisheterosexuals and people who pass as such. Its losers are the abnormal. These can become allies or queer when awakened with queer consciousness. The structure of this society is enforced by homophobia, transphobia, and other bigotries of normativity, which is both materially and structurally deterministic. Its goal is the abolition (or transcendence) of normalcy and all norms and socially enforced categorical expectations.

Queer capital: Marxism in queer theory and post-1950 poetics https://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/86259/

The near-simultaneous rise of New Left Marxism and lesbian/gay liberation in the 1960s produced a flowering of lesbian/gay Marxist politics (charted in the second section of this guide). London gay liberation in particular yielded work by Mario Mieli and David Fernbach. By the 1990s Marxist Leslie Feinberg was helping to lay the foundations of trans liberation. Theoretically (as reflected in the third section of this guide), the sexual attitudes of pre-Stalinist Marxism were further theorized with Herbert Marcuse’s defence of the ‘perversions’ in Eros and Civilization. US John D’Emilio’s essay ‘Capitalism and Gay Identity’ linked ‘free’ labour under capitalism to identity formation. Rosemary Hennessy’s Profit and Pleasure was a key text that summed up earlier Marxist work on sexuality on the eve of the 21st-century emergence of queer Marxism.

Other modern Marxist theories:

  • Post Colonialism: something something decolonize everything, including your brain

  • (Marxian) Feminism: Society is structured to benefit males, the special property is called patriarchy. You can become feminists when awakened with feminist consciousness. The structure is enforced by misogyny, structural sexism, gender normativity, ect. Its goal is the abolition (or transcendence) of patriarchy.

  • Critical Pedagogy: Capital is replaced with formal education or literacy. Its winners are the formally educated and literate, regarded as knowers, and its losers the illiterate, who are actually knowers in their own right, though the system excludes them, their ways of knowing, and their knowledges. They are awakened through political literacy, and conscientization is the process of their awakening. The structure is enforced by expectations on literacy and formal education. The goal is the abolition (or transcendence) of formal education and objective knowledge to humanize.

  • Disability Studies: Capital is able-bodiedness. Its target is ableism, the that it is in general better and more normal to be able-bodied instead of disabled in some way. Its winners are the able-bodied. Its losers are the disabled. These can become disability activists when awakened with a critical consciousness of ability status. The structure is enforced by dis/ableism. Its goal is the abolition (or transcendence) of ableism.

  • Fat Studies, Capital is thinness. Its ideology is thinnormativity, that it is normal for the human body not to be overweight. Its winners are the thin. Its losers are the fat and bodies of size. These can become fat activists when awakened with a critical fat consciousness. The structure is enforced by fatphobia along with healthism. Its goal is the abolition (or transcendence) of thinnormativity and expectations about weight and body size.

A Classical Marxist would probably scoff at these Philosophies bearing his name and view them as distractions from the real class struggle and Marx's vision. Typically, the intersection with the PoMo philosophy is the point of contention. Classical Marxist generally reject PoMo as an extension of Marxist thought. I do not take issue with that idea, as people should obviously be able to define their own belief system. However, these ideas are clear extensions of Marxist philosophy though they are distinct from Classical Marxism and Marx's actual work. There does seem to be some ambiguity regarding some self-described Marxists about what that actually means. I would not be surprised if many of these people have never read his work directly, so its no surprise that the Marxist category is so ambiguous. It seems many of the talking points from Classical Marxists are lifted from the site https://www.marxist.com/ so a better understanding of what that specific group believes could be found there. Most of the modern critiques of Marxism are targeted toward its PoMo bastard child and descendants. Better discussions can be made if people distinguish precisely what they mean by Marxism, because each version has specific critiques. It's not necessarily fair to criticize Marx directly for Fat-Studies as an example. Some people refer to these offshoots as Cultural Marxism (which people have tried to tie to Goebbels' anti-Jewish propaganda), Rhetorical Marxism, neo-Marxism, postmodern neo-Marxism/Critical Social Justice, etc. but I should emphasize a distinction should be made between these and Classical Marxism. As I mentioned earlier, the distinguishing of the ideas does not remove the Marxist lineage of the latter. In fact, Classical Marxists have supported and embraced these modern neo-Marxist philosophies generally: The contention they seem to have is that they should not be considered Marxist due to their PoMo roots and the lack of a unified theory and scientific rigor. This seems odd considering the claim that PoMo is inherently incompatible with Marxism from Classical Marxists. If the philosophy is completely incompatible with yours, why not reject it as such instead of embracing it? I'm also wholly confused at the assertion that Marxism is peak rationality from marxist.com, but that's neither here nor there.

Another thing to harp on this point is that Marx insisted that within the core of politics there needed to be a deep and empirical analysis of social relationships framed with regard to the economy, and that everything else stemmed from this analysis. With that perspective Marxism is a method of analysis, not a political philosophy, which indicates that the PoMo descendants of Marxism are very natural extensions that Marx himself may have embraced, pending his own personal biases.

Slavoj Žižek is probably the current person a modern Classical Marxist most reveres for insight.

3. Dismissing Marx altogether and appealing to pre-Marxist communist movements.

I find that this is a more rare and fringe occurrence from people who either want to avoid the nameplate of Marx or are looking for ideological purity. This is sometimes referred to as proto-communism and is essentially Utopianism. Marx criticized Utiopianism as unrealistic, though he revered some Utopians (as mentioned earlier). Generally Marx's criticisms of these ideas are accurate. Thomas More also wrote a very subtle and successful criticism of this Utopianism in his aptly titled book, Utopia. The idea of a society that lives in a Utopian state or some similar type of peaceful classless existence has been around for quite some time. Its sort of a remedial idea at any meaningful scale to be frank, and its been an easy target for philosophers for around 500 years.

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  • 1
    This is an outstanding answer, one of the best I've seen on this site. I am curious what you mean by your final sentence about utopian society being 'an easy target for philosophers', particularly when above I understood you to be saying that it is, ultimately, a target of communism? Jul 24, 2023 at 20:30
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    Thank you for your kind words. Your critique is very fitting, and it has also been appropriately targeted at Marx by many of his critics. Marx viewed himself as being scientific and that his philosophy was based on natural evidence. His critiques of Utopianism were couched in this perspective. He rejected the idea that his philosophy was Utopian because Utopian ideals are unscientific and idealistic. Studying his work makes it apparent that he did have an obvious Utopian vision, however, where man would ultimately transcend and reach a state where alienation would cease to exist.
    – meowmeow
    Aug 31, 2023 at 15:40
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    I think the primary distinction Marx and his proponents have is that they think this state will be the natural evolution of humanity based on scientific evidence, whereas Utopians are simply wishing the state into existence based on their ideals. Marxist tend to frame Utopianism as a state where there is no strife and everything is perfect and draw a distinction there with Marxism, this may be fair but it seems like a thin veil to me since Marx obviously referenced a transcendent idealized state of being.
    – meowmeow
    Aug 31, 2023 at 15:47
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    Also the Utopians offered many idealizations and none were perfect, so the idea that Marxism is not Utopian because it didn't propose a 'perfect' idealization is not really a distinction at all. Marx's vision was Utopian because it proposed an idealized state of humanity that is not attainable without a positive transcendence of human nature. Marxists think that this will occur via natural social evolution and it is therefore scientific and not Utopian.
    – meowmeow
    Aug 31, 2023 at 16:05
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As you've pointed out in pt. 1, the countries calling themselves 'communistic' had little to do with communism as described by Marx. In the theoretical communism, the means of production were to be controlled by the working class, in Soviet Union and other Eastern Block countries they were controlled by a small elite controlling the ruling party. The representatives nominated by them were controlled by nobody except the party itself, which means they've got free hand on their 'lands'. The actual working class didn't have anything to tell, they weren't even allowed to move freely. If you look what economical system from Marx's description would match that system, it would be: feudalism.

Modern ideologues: it's quite easy, and not surprising. Ideologues belonging to the political parties are interpreting communism in the every way they found useful to get votes. In western countries, they have no real chance winning, which allows them to make that interpretations as vague as it goes, and usually reduced to the criticism of capitalism (eg. France - everyone hates capitalism, but once you need to be more specific about the alternative, you rarely hear anything going above what socialist or centrist parties have in their programs).

In China, being 'communist' is being opposite (which doesn't necessarily mean: against) West and USA. When it comes to capitalism, China is more capitalistic (in negative meaning according to Marx) then West. They don't even have fully free healthcare and higher education, forget any control of economy for an average citizen (in democratic countries, people can at least vote for rules regulating private companies).

As for open-minded (not politically biased) modern philosopher, there's one huge problem with identifying as marxists: Marx's theories were hopelessly eurocentric, his description of the stages of social development matches the historical processes, but the attempts to apply them outside Europe have hopelessly failed, even in the most tragic actor on the stage, the Russia (eg. interpreting 'Kulaks' as capitalists, as Orlando Figes pointed out, rich peasants were anything near capitalists in Europe, but a temporary phase in the cycle of a peasant farm history).

There are attempts in creating the oases of communism within capitalistic society, like universal income, free transportation, free software etc. (free software is probably the best approximation of communism that we have).

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