Marxism is interesting to study. But those who study it tend to do so as if Marx came up with his ideas, full-figured, as if sprung from the forehead of Jove. The labor theory of value he derived from Ricardo, modified labor theory to suit his views.
But the idea of communism collective ownership and living as “the best way”? That Marx definitely did not originate. It was common wisdom in his time based on hundreds of years of experiments, mostly in America. (See:Holloway, Heavens on Earth) From Hutterites and Oneida to Amana and the Fourierists, America was a hotbed of communist experimentation. Almost all of those communes became quite wealthy in a short period of time. Some of those communists were consulted by George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. One of those communist groups translated the declaration of independence. That group of communists turned down a land grant from William Penn to prevent the horrible problem of accruing wealth.
Anyone reading Fourier’s work can see the obvious influence he had on Marx. And yet, Fourier’s Phalanxes failed. With the passing of faith as a principle of scholarship, Marx became the only thinker who espoused communism and yet was secular. He took up that banner at the end of the 19th century, when the communes and religious revivalism was passing away. Thirty years later, most had forgotten the large influence of communes on American and world thought over centuries. Marx was “the man” and the rest was history. Like the followers of all prophets, history began with Marx for his faithful and still does.
What was different is that virtually all of those communes were voluntary, religious communism. Prior to Marx, communism essentially meant religious communism. The extreme economic success of those Christian pietist communes was the basis for Marx assuming that communism was “the one true way.” Some of those Christian communes were quite radical. Oneida practiced a free love, multi-partner radical theology that recognized no original sin. Like other communities, Onieda had children that wanted to leave, (they wanted to have monogamous marriages) and the commune became a corporation. Today we know the echo of that commune as the Onieda brand of silver. Amana had a somewhat similar trajectory.
Thus, Karl Marx committed an unforgivable sin of bad scholarship when he created his communist ideal. We know this because there were quite a few secular communist experiments in the hundreds of years preceding him. Those experiments did not work. Thus, secular communism had already shown that it failed, most falling apart miserably within years even if voluntary. There was absolutely no evidence to suggest that involuntary secular communism would work. None. What evidence existed said the opposite. Karl Marx fantasized his ideal world. He was, at the root, a terrible scholar. His work is fantasy.
This puts Marx in a different light. His labor theory of value has merit and utility, although it is no more complete and “true” than any other economic theory, and probably less than most. It stands upon an argument by declaration, that labor is the only real measure. So fine – that is a proposition we can talk about and use as one possible view to analyze the world. But when Marx put forward his prescription for what ailed us, Karl committed what can only be termed a heinous error. Huge numbers of people since, victimized, enslaved and slaughtered by his followers, would agree with me that his poor scholarship was an unforgivable crime, given that hundreds of years of evidence ran contrary to his idea.
Coming back to the labor theory – Is labor the only value creator and measurement? I think any environmentalist would argue strongly against the proposition that the earth, water, trees, and air have zero value until the hand of man works on them.
Think about it.