Marxism's False Foundation
The Peterson–Žižek debate, “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism,” was presented at Meridian Hall in Toronto, Canada on April 19, 2021.(1) During the debate, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson noted ten fundamentally flawed axioms of Marxism. Other analyses include Mel Wild’s “Deconstructing the Communist Manifesto,”(2) Stephen Marche’s faux-intellectual response in the left-leaning Guardian (UK) which while ignored or misstated Dr. Peterson’s core arguments,(3) and Hobo Blues Clown’s opening summary,(4) whose memes summaries are arguably not further from the mark than Marche’s spin.
Marxist apologists at The Jacobin (a far-left US publication named after the violent Jacobins of the French Revolution who perpetrated the violent Reign of Terror) and other outlets have criticized Dr. Peterson for allegedly misunderstanding Marxism and not engaging Marx’s other works. Peterson selected the Communist Manifesto as the most widely-read document containing the communist credo. Critiques from the Jacobin and other far-left publications, as one would expect from avowed Marxist idealogues, are error-ridde. They do not withstand serious scrutiny, and will not be further addressed here. The history Dr. Peterson cites is very real, notwithstanding the efforts of extremists to rehabilitate communist dogma and to dismiss the atrocities that have arisen from this totalitarian ideology.
The following consists of notes from Dr. Peterson’s lecture. Peterson noted that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto was an intellectual train-wreck which failed basic rational and logical standards: “I've rarely read a tract that made as many errors per sentence as the Communist Manifesto." He observed that Marx and Engels repeatedly asserted their own problematic assumptions as axiomatic fact without evidence, and without seeking to identify and impartially evaluate other possibilities. According to Peterson, they are “typical” thinkers in that when an idea appears, they do not challenge their assumptions, “which are mostly wrong.”
Peterson notes that critical readers need to ask themselves, “Is this true?” and “Are there counter arguments that can be put forth that are credible?” He notes that the Communist Manifesto is a deeply flawed pseudo-intellectual work which contains “the logic of people who aren't trained to think,” and is contrary to "the real essence of critical thinking."
Peterson identified ten core axioms of the Communist Manifesto as unreliable, fundamentally flawed, and even absurd. The links to the time in the lecture at which Dr. Peterson cites each axiom are cited from Mel Wild's blog. Text in quotation marks are direct citations from Dr. Peterson; items without quotation marks represent our summary of Dr. Peterson's statements.
Ten Fundamentally Flawed Axioms of the Communist Manifesto
1. (4:10) “History is to be viewed primarily as an economic class struggle.”
Peterson notes that history is demonstrably not based only on economic class struggle.
2. (6:24) Hierarchical struggle did not arise from capitalism, but predates capitalism and even humanity.
3. (9:40) “Marx also assumes that you can think about history as a binary class struggle” while ignoring the struggle with nature, including human nature. All people are capable of good and evil, and at times, the same individual may play roles of exploited and exploitee.
Peterson also notes that divisions between groups are not always clear, as many and likely most, individuals have overlapping features between different social, economic, ethnic, and other identity groups. He noted that over 1.8 million kulaks, or peasant farmers who had accumulated some wealth, were exiled, and 400,000 were killed, as part of the expropriation of land by the Soviet state. The kulaks had provided valuable services in supporting local economies, and their exile contributed to the death from famine of an estimated 6 million Ukrainian farmers and their families in the early 1930s.
4. (11:48) “You have an implicit idea that all of the good is on the side of the proletariat and all of the evil is on the side of the bourgeoisie, and that’s classic group identity thinking...That’s naive beyond comprehension...it's absolutely foolish to think that you can identify someone's moral worth with their economic standing.” Peterson went on to note that Marx’s advocacy of classic tribalism is divisive and detrimental to creating a healthy culture.
5. (12:49) “Marx also came up with this idea, and it’s a crazy idea...of the ‘dictatorship of the Proletariat…this is a call for not just revolution, but bloody, violent revolution and the overthrow of all existing social structures…[the idea] that none of the people from the proletariat class are going to be corrupted by that sudden access to power...especially if you believe that social pressure is one of the determining factors of human character, which the Marxists certainly believe...then why wouldn’t you assume that the proletariat [after seizing power] would immediately become as or more corrupt than the capitalists, which is of course... exactly what happened every time this experiment was run.”
6. (16:16) “What makes you think that you can take something as complicated as capitalist free market society and centralize that, and put the decision-making power in the hands of a few people without specifying the mechanisms by which you are going to choose them, what makes you think that they are going to have the wisdom or the ability to do what the capitalists were doing...And that nothing that the capitalists did constituted valid labor, which is another thing that Marx assumed, which is palpably absurd.”
7. (17:34) Marxist claimed “profit was theft.” Peterson stated:
“Of course profit can be theft because crooked people can run companies, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it is always theft...If the capitalist is adding value to the corporation, then there is some utility and some fairness of him or her extracting the value of their abstract labor - their thought, their abstract abilities, their ability to manage the company, their ability to engage in proper competition and product development and the proper treatment of the workers...how can you grow if you don’t have a profit...Profit is also a really useful constraint...a limitation on what you might reasonably attempt, it provides a good constraint on wasted labor.”
Marx and his adherents "know nothing whatsoever about how an actual business works, or refuse to know." By seeking profitability of his own business, Peterson notes, “there were forms of stupidity that I couldn’t engage in because I would be punished by the market enough to eradicate the enterprise.”
8. (20:00) “Marx and Engels also assume that this ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ which involves absurd centralization, the overwhelming probability of corruption and impossible computation as the proletariat would now try to rationally compute the manner in which an entire market economy would run, which cannot be done because it’s far too complicated...that somehow the proletariat dictatorship would become magically hyper-productive. And there’s actually no theory at all about how that’s going to happen. And so I had to infer the theory, and the theory seems to be that once you eradicate the bourgeoisie, because they’re [allegedly] evil, and you get rid of their private property, and you eradicate the profit motive, then all of a sudden magically the small percentage of the proletariat who now run the society determine how they can make their productive enterprises productive enough so they become hyperproductive.”
9. (21:23) The proletariat dictatorship will become “hyperproductive so that there are enough goods for everyone across all dimensions, and when that happens what people will do is spontaneously engage in meaningful creative labor...and the utopia will magically be ushered in...That isn’t the utopia that is going to suit everyone because there are great differences between people...” Marx’s view is based on a “shallow conception of people” which does not understand human nature that all that is needed is to give them “bread and cake,” devoid of larger meaning and personal strivings.
10. (23:15) “Marx and Engels admit repeatedly in the Communist Manifesto that there has never been a system of production in the history of the world that was as effective at producing material commodities in excess as capitalism. That’s extensively documented in the Communist Manifesto...if the proposition is, look, we’ve got to get as much material security for everyone as we can, and capitalism already seems to be doing that at a rate that’s unparalleled in human history, wouldn’t the logical thing be just to let the damn system just play itself out?...The logical assumption is that you’re already on a road that’s supposed to produce the proper material productivity”
“The Communist Manifesto is seriously flawed in virtually every way it could possibly be flawed.” “Marx was a very narcissistic thinker...he never went to the second stage which is, wait a second, how could all of this go terribly wrong?...one of your moral obligations is to think that you might be wrong about...your fundamental axioms, and you have the moral obligation to walk through the damn system and think…
“I just can’t think how anyone could come up with an idea like the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ especially after advocating its implementation with violent means, which is a direct part of the Communist Manifesto, and actually think, if they were thinking, if they knew anything about human beings and proclivity for malevolence that’s part and parcel of the individual human being, that it could do anything except lead to a special form of hell, which is precisely what did happen.”
Marx was wrong about inequality, as the poor got wealthier, not poorer, under capitalism:
"We do not know how to set up a human economic system without inequality. No one has ever managed it, including the communists... It’s not obvious by any stretch of the imagination that the more more free economies in the West have less inequality than the less free economies in the rest of the world... Although capitalism produces inequality, it also produces wealth, and all the other systems don’t, they just produce inequality.”
“From 1800 to 2017, income growth adjusted for inflation grow by 40x for production workers and 16x for unskilled ratios, while GDP rose by a factor of 0.5 from 1 AD to 1800...there has been this unbelievably upward movement of wealth, and it doesn’t only characterize the tiny percentage of people at the top...what’s happening to the absolutely poor at the bottom? And the answer to that is, they are getting richer faster now than they ever have in the history of the world, and we’re eradicating poverty in countries that have adopted moderate free-market policies at a rate that is unparalleled….the rate of absolute poverty in the world…” dropped by half between 2000 and 2012… the rich may be getting richer but the poor are getting richer too.”
“The poor are not getting poorer under capitalism. The poor are getting richer under capitalism, by a large margin. The child mortality rate in Africa now is the same as the child mortality rate was in Europe in 1952. And that’s happened within the span of one lifetime. And so if you’re for the poor, if you’re actually concerned that the poorest people in the world rise above their starvation levels, then all the evidence suggests that the best way to do that is to implement something approximating a free-market economy.”
1. Peterson, Jordan. “Jordan Peterson's Critique of the Communist Manifesto.” Presented at Peterson–Žižek debate, “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism,” at Meridian Hall, Toronto, April 19, 2021. Video posted April 17, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_MXSE3wUT4
2. Wild, Mel. “Deconstructing the Communist Manifesto.” Word Press, April 24, 2021. https://melwild.wordpress.com/2021/04/24/deconstructing-the-communist-manifesto/
3. Marche, Stephen. “The 'debate of the century': what happened when Jordan Peterson debated Slavoj Žižek.” The Guardian (UK), April 20, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/20/jordan-peterson-slavoj-zizek-happiness-capitalism-marxism
4. Hobo Blues Clown. “Jordan Peterson’s 10 Fundamentally Flawed Axioms of Marxism.” Wordpress, April 21, 2019. https://hobonewsclown.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/jordan-petersons-10-fundamentally-flawed-axioms-of-marxism/