Jordan Peterson on Communism- Critique on Communist Manifesto



I've rarely read a track that made as many errors per sentence conceptual errors per sentence as the Communist Manifesto it was quite a miraculous reread it and it was interesting to think about it psychologically as well because I've read student papers that were of the same ilk in some sense although I'm not suggesting that they were of the same level of glittering literary brilliance and polemic quality and I also understand that the Communist Manifesto was a call for revolution and not a standard logical argument but that notwithstanding I have some things to say about the author's psychologically the first thing is that it doesn't seem to me that either marks or Engels grappled with one fundamental with this particular fundamental truth which is that almost all ideas are wrong and so if you and it doesn't matter if they're your ideas or someone else's ideas they're probably wrong and even if they strike you with the force of brilliance your job is to assume first of all that they're probably wrong and then to assault them with everything you have in your arsenal and see if they can survive and what what struck me about the communist manifesto was it was akin to something young said about typical thinking and this was the thinking of people who weren't trained to think he said that the typical thinker has a thought it appears to them like an object might appear in a room the thought appears and then they just they just accept it as true they don't know the second step which is to think about the thinking and that's the real essence of critical thinking and so that's what you try to teach people in university is to read a text and to think about it critically not to destroy the utility of the text but to separate the wheat from the chaff and so what I tried to do when I was reading the communist manifesto was to separate the wheat from the chaff and I'm afraid I found some wheat yes but mostly chaff and I'm going to explain why hopefully in relatively short order so I'm going to outline ten of the fundamental axioms of the Communist Manifesto and so these are truths that are basically held as self-evident by the authors and their truths that are presented in some sense as unquestioned and I'm going to question them and tell you why I think they're unreliable now we should remember that this tract was actually written 170 years ago that's a long time ago and we have learned a fair bit from since then about human nature about society about politics about economics there's lots of mysteries left to be unsolved but left to be solved but we are slightly wiser I presume then we were at one point and so you can forgive the authors to some degree for what they didn't know but that doesn't matter given that the essence of this doctrine is still held as sacrosanct by a large proportion of academics probably are among the most what would you call guilty of that particular sin so here's proposition number one history is to be viewed primarily as an economic class struggle alright so so let's think about that for a minute first of all is there the proposition there is that history is primarily to be viewed through an economic lens and I think that's a debatable proposition because there are many other motivations that drive human beings than economics and those have to be taken into account especially the drive people other than economic competition like economic cooperation for example and so that's a problem the other problem is that it's actually not nearly a pessimistic enough description of the actual problem because history history this is to give the devilís do the idea that one of the driving forces between history is hierarchical struggle is absolutely true but the idea that that's actually history is not true because it's deeper than history it's biology itself because organisms of all sorts organize themselves into hierarchies and one of the problems with hierarchies is that they tend to arrange themselves into a winner-take-all situation and so but not that is implicit in some sense in Marx Marx is thinking because of course Marx believed that in a capitalist society capital would accumulate in the hands of fewer and fewer people and that actually is in keeping with the nature of hierarchical organizations now the problem with that is it so much the fact of so there's the there's accuracy in the accusation that that is a eternal form of motivation for struggle but it's an underestimation of the seriousness of the problem because it attributes' it to the structure of human societies rather than the deeper reality of the existence of hierarchical structures per se which as they also characterize the animal kingdom to a large degree are clearly not only human constructions and the idea that there's hierarchical competition among human beings there's evidence for that that goes back at least to the Paleolithic times and so that's the next problem is that well the this ancient problem of hierarchical structure is clearly not attributable to capitalism because it existed long in human history before capitalism existed and then it predated human history itself so the question then arises why would you necessarily at least implicitly link the class struggle with capitalism given that it's a far deeper problem and now it's also you've got to understand that this is a deeper problem for people on the left not just for people on the right it is the case that hierarchical structures dispossessed those people who are at the bottom those creatures who are at the bottom speaking say of animals but those people who are at the bottom and that that is a fundamental existential problem but the other thing that Marx didn't seem to take into account is that there there are far more reasons that human beings struggle than their economic class struggle even if you build the hierarchical idea into that which is a more comprehensive way of thinking about it human beings struggle with themselves with the malevolence that's inside themselves with the evil that they are capable of doing with spiritual and psychological warfare that goes on within them and we're also actually always at odds with nature and this never seems to show up in Marx and it doesn't show up in Marx's Marxism in general it's as if nature doesn't exist the primary conflict as far as I'm concerned or a primary conflict that human beings engage in is this struggle for life in a cruel and harsh natural world and it's as if it's as if that doesn't exist at the Marxist domain if human beings have a problem it's because there's a class struggle that's essentially economic it's like no human beings have problems because we come into the life starving and lonesome and we have to solve that problem continually and we make our social arrangements at least in part to ameliorate that as well as to as to well upon occasion exacerbated so there's also very little understanding in the Communist Manifesto that any of the likes a hierarchical organizations that human beings have put together I might have a positive element and that's an absolute catastrophe because hierarchical structures are actually necessary to solve complicated social problems we have to organize ourselves in some manner and you have to give the devil his due and so it is the case that hierarchies dispossessed people and that's a big problem that's the fundamental problem of inequality but it's also the case that hierarchies happen to be a very efficient way of distributing resources and it's finally the case that human hierarchies are not fundamentally predicated on power and I would say that biological anthropological data on that or crystal clear you don't rise to a position of authority that's reliable in the human society primarily by exploiting other people it's a very unstable means of obtaining power so so that's a problem well the people that laughs might do it that way okay now the other another problem that comes up right away is that Marx also assumes that you can think about history as a binary class struggle with clear divisions between say the proletariat proletariat and the Bruce was he and that's actually a problem because it's not so easy to make a firm division between whose exploiter and whose exploiting let's say because it's not obvious like in the case of small shareholders let's say whether or not they happen to be part of the oppressed or part of the oppressor this actually turned out to be a big problem in the Russian Revolution and my big problem I mean tremendously big problem because it turned out that you could fragment people into multiple identities that's a fairly easy thing to do and you could usually find some axis along which they were part of the oppressor class it might have been a consequence of their education or it might be a consequence of their of their of their of the wealth that they strived to accumulate during their life or it might have been a consequence of the fact that they had parents or grandparents who were educated too rich or that they remember of the priesthood or that they were socialists or anyways that the listing of how it was possible for you to bieber's wha instead of proletariat grew immensely and that was one of the reasons that the Red Terror claimed all the victims that had claimed and so that was a huge problem it was probably most exemplified by the demolition of the kulaks who were basically peasants asn't farmers although effective ones in the soviet union who had managed to raise themselves out of serfdom over a period of about 40 years and to gather some some degree of material security about them and about 1.8 million of them were exiled about 400,000 were killed and the net consequence of that removal of their private property because of their burgeois status was arguably the death of six million Ukrainians in the famines of the 1930s and so the binary class struggle idea that was a bad idea that was a very very bad idea it's also bad in this way and that and this is a real sleight of hand at mark pulls office you have a binary class division proletariat brucey and 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 you know it's one of the reasons I don't like identity politics is because once you divide people into groups and hit them against one another it's very easy to assume that all the evil in the world can be attributed to one group the hypothetical oppressors and all the good to the other and that well that's that's that's naive that's naive beyond comprehension because it's absolutely foolish to make the presumption that you can identify someone's moral worth with their economic standing so and that actually turned out to be a real problem as well because Marx also came up with this idea which is a crazy idea as far as I can tell of the that's a technical term crazy idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and that's the next idea that I really stumbled across it was like okay so what's the problem well the problem is the capitalists own everything they own all the means of production and they're oppressing everyone and that would be all the workers and there's gonna be a race to the bottom of wages for the workers as the capitalists strive to extract more and more value from the labor of the proletariat by competing with other capitalists should drive wages down word which by the way didn't happen partly because wages wage earners can become scarce and that actually drives the market value upward but in fact that that you assume a priori that all the evil can be attributed to the capitalists and all the good that de Bercy and all the good could be attributed to the proletariat meant that you could hypothesize that a dictatorship of the proletariat could come about and that was the the first stage in the communist revolution and remember this is a call for revolution and not just revolution but bloody violent revolution and the overthrow of all overthrowing of all exist in social structures um anyways the the the problem with that you see is that because all the evil isn't divided so easily up into oppressor and oppressed that when you do establish a dictator of the proletariat to the degree that you can do that which you actually can't because it's technically impossible and an absurd thing to consider to begin with not at least because of the problem of centralization and you have to hypothesize that you can take away all the property of the capitalists you can replace the capitalist class with a minority of pro proletariat's how they're going to be chosen isn't exactly clear in the communist manifesto that none of the people who are from the proletariat class are going to be corrupted by that sudden access to power because they're well by definition good so so then you have the good people who are running the world and you also have them centralized so that they can make decision decisions that are insanely complicated to make in fact impossibly complicated to make and so that's a failure conceptually on both dimensions because first of all all the proletariat aren't going to be good and when you give put people in the same position as the evil capitalists especially if you believe that social pressure is one of the determining factors of human character which the Marxist certainly believed then why wouldn't you assume that the proletariat would immediately become as or more corrupt than the capitalist which is of course I would say exactly what happened every time this experiment was run and then the next problem is well what makes you think that you can take some system as complicated as like capitalist free-market society and centralize that and put decision-making power in the hands of a few people the mechanisms by without specifying the mechanisms by which you're going to choose them like what makes you think they're gonna have the wisdom or the ability to do what the capitalists were doing unless you assume as Marx did that all of the evil was with the capitalists and all the good was with the proletariat and that nothing that capitalists did constituted valid labor which is another thing that Marx assumed which is palpably absurd because people who are like maybe if you're a dissolute aristocrat from 1830 and or earlier then you run a feudal estate and all you do is spend your time gambling and and and chasing prostitutes well then the your labor value is zero but if you're if you're running a business and and it's a successful business first of all you're a bloody fool to exploit exploit your workers because even if you're greedy is sin because you're not going to extract the maximum amount of labour out of them by doing that and the notion that you're adding no productive value as a manager rather than a capitalist is it's absolutely absurd all it does is indicate that you either know nothing whatsoever about how an actual business works or you refuse to know anything about how an actual business works so that's that's also and that's also a big problem so then the next problem is the criticism of profit it's like well what's wrong with profit exactly what's the problem with profit well the idea from the Marxist perspective was that profit was theft no but profit well can be theft because crooked people can run companies and so sometimes profit is theft but that certainly doesn't mean that it's always threat theft what it means in part at least if the capitalist is adding value to the corporation then there's some utility and some fairness in him or her extracting the value of their abstract labor their thought their abstract abilities their ability to manage the company than to engage in proper competition and product development and efficiency and the proper treatment of the workers and all of that and then if they can create a profit well then they have a little bit of security for times that aren't so good and that seems absolutely bloody necessary as far as I'm concerned and then the next thing is well how can you grow if you don't have a profit and if you have an enterprise that's valuable and worthwhile and some enterprises are valuable and worthwhile then it seems to me that a little bit of profit to help you grow seems to be the right approach and so and then the other issue with profit and you know this if you've ever run a business is it it's really useful constraint you know like it's not enough to have a good idea it's not a good enough to have a good idea and the sales and marketing plant and then to implement that and all of that that's bloody difficult like it's not easy to have a good idea and it's not easy to come up with a good sales and marketing plan and it's not easy to find customers and satisfy them and so if you allow profit to to constitute a limitation on what it is that you might reasonably attempt it provides a good constraint on on wasted labour and so most of the things that I've done in my life even psychologically that were designed to help people psychological health I tried to run on a for-profit basis and the reason for what that was apart from the fact that I'm not a person making a profit partly so my enterprises can grow what was also so that the reforms of stupidity that I couldn't engage in because I would be punished by the market enough to eradicate the enterprise and so okay and then so the next the next issue this is a weird one so Marx and Engels also assume that this a tater ship of the proletariat which involves absurd centralization the overwhelming probability of corruption and impossible computation as the proletariat now try to rationally compute the manner in which an entire market economy could run which cannot be done because it's far too complicated for anybody to think through the next theory is 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 version of Z because they're evil and you get rid of their private property and you you you you eradicate the profit motive and 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 hyper productive you know and they need to become hyper productive for the last error to be logically coherent in relationship to the Marxist theory which is that at some point the proletariat the dictatorship of the proletariat will become so hyper productive that there'll be enough material goods for everyone across all dimensions and when that happens then what people will do is spontaneously engage in meaningful creative labor which is what they have been alienated from in the capitalist horror show and the Utopia will be magically assured in but there's no indication about how that hyper productivity is going to come about and there's there's also no understanding that well that isn't the Utopia that is going to suit everyone because there are great differences between people when some people are going to find what they want in love and some are going to find it in social being and some are going to find it in conflict and competition and some are going to find it in creativity as Marx pointed out but the notion that that that will necessarily be the end goal for the utopian state is preposterous and then there's the dusty Espionage servation – which is one not to be taken lightly which is what sort of shallow conception of people do you have that makes you think that if you gave people enough bread and cake and the Dostoyevsky in terms and nothing to do with busy thumbs – except busy themselves with the continued continuity of the species they would also all of a sudden become peaceful and heavenly dostoyevsky's idea was that you know we were built for trouble and if we were ever handed everything we were we needed on a silver platter the first thing we would do is engage in some form of creative destruction just so something unexpected could happen just so we could have the adventure of our lives and I think there's something well there's something to be said for that so and then the last error let's say although by no means the last was listen this is one of the strangest parts of the Communist Manifesto was Marx it agree admits and angles 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 and capitalism like that's that's extensively documented in the Communist Manifesto and so if your proposition is look we've got to get as much material security for everyone as we as possible as fast as we can and capitalism already seems to be doing that at a rate that's unparalleled in human history when the logical thing needs just to let the damn system play itself out I mean unless you're assuming that the evil capitalists are just going to take all of the flat-screen televisions and put them in one big room and not let anyone else have one the logical assumption is that while you're already on a road that's supposed to produce the proper material productivity and so well that's ten reasons as far as I can tell but and so what I saw in that the Communist Manifesto is is like seriously flawed in virtually every way it could possibly be flawed and also all in and in and evidence that Marx was the kind of narcissistic thinker who could think he was he was very intelligent person and so was angles but what he thought what he thought when he thought was that what he thought was correct and he never went the second stage which is wait a second how could all of this go terribly wrong and if you're a thinker especially a sociological thinker especially a thinker on the broad scale a social scientist for example one of your moral obligations is to think you know you might be wrong about one of your fundamental axioms or two or three or ten and as a consequence you have the moral obligation to walk through the damn system and think well what if I'm completely wrong here and things invert and go exactly the wrong way like I can't I just can't understand how anybody could come up with an idea like the dictatorship of the proletariat especially after advocating its implementation for 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 the proclivity for malevolence that's part and parcel of the individual human being that that could do anything but lead to a special form of Hell which is precisely what did happen and so I'm going to close because I have three minutes with with a bit of evidence as well that Marx also thought that what would happen inevitably as a consequence of capitalism is that rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer so there would be inequality the first thing I'd like to say is we do not know how to set up a human system of economics without inequality no one has ever managed it including the Communists and the form of inequality changed and it's not obvious by any stretch of the imagination that the free market economies of the West have more inequality than the less free economies in the rest of the world and the one thing you can say about capitalism is that although it produces inequality which it absolutely does it also produces wealth and all the other systems don't they just produce inequality [Applause] so here's here's a few stats here's a few free-market staffs okay from 1800 to 2017 income growth adjusted for inflation grew by 40 times for production workers and 16 times for unskilled labor well GDP fact GDP rose by a factor of about 0.5 from 180 to 1800 so from 180 to 1880 it was like nothing flat and then all of a sudden in the last two hundred and seventeen years there's been this unbelievably upward movement of wealth and it doesn't only characterize the tiny percentage of people at the top who admittedly do have most of the wealth the question is not only though what's the inequality the question is well what's happening to the absolutely poor at the bottom and answer that is air getting richer faster now than they ever have in the history of the world and we're eradicating poverty in countries that have adopted moderates free-market policies at a rate that's unparalleled so here's an example UN Millennium Millennium Goals was to reduce the rate of absolute poverty in the world by 50 percent between 2000 and 2015 and they define that as a dollar 90 a day pretty low you know but you have to start somewhere we hit that at 2012 three years ahead of schedule and you might be cynical about that and say well it's kind of an arbitrary number but the curves are exactly the same at three dollars and eighty three dollars and eighty cents a day and seven dollars and sixty cents a day not as many people have hit that but the rate of increase towards that is the same the bloody UN thinks that we'll be out of poverty defined by a dollar an idea day by the year 2030 it's unparalleled and so so the sort of rich may be getting richer but the poor are getting richer too and that's that's not the look I'll leave it at that because I'm out of time but one of the I'll leave it with this the poor are not eating for under capitalism the poor are getting richer under capitalism by a large margin and I'll leave you with one statistic which is that now in in Africa the child mortality rate in Africa now is the same as the child mortality rate was in Europe in 1952 and so that's happened within the span of one lifetime and so if you're for the poor if you're for the poor if you're actually concerned that the poorest people in the world rise above their starvation levels and see all the evidence suggests that the best way to do that is to implement something approximating a free-market economy and so thank you very much [Applause]

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