I want to zoom out and consider Marxism from a high level.
Punching Above Their Weight
One way to characterize Marxist thought is to say that its sophistication granted its limited axioms greater explanatory power than they really held.
At a strategic level Marxism fails. Yet Marxism’s great tactical abilities allowed it to punch above its weight as a system of thought.
A system of thought must be a system: dialectial materialism includes a systems-theoretical metaphilosophy.
More plainly, Marxism is also a philosophy about how philosophy - ideology or political science - ought to work. And it ought to work, they say, in a manner consistent with how the world will evolve, and in a way that carefully considers how the whole fits together. Your philosophy must evolve, they said, and in so doing it must improve.
Because it improved on Hegelianism, Marxism’s theory of its own evolution came tantalizingly close to a metasystematic approach. Just missed it.
A Religion for the Modern Age
More practically, Marxism has worked harder than any other I’ve found at correlating world events. By golly, the good Marxist can and will tell you at great length exactly why the latest political events in the smallest state on the other side of the world are happening, and how they affect you.
So far as I know, only the Marxists have devoted generations to the task of building a principled weltanschaung whose workings mirrored the global industrial economy.
Now all this is brilliant, staggeringly brilliant. The Marxists got a lot of mileage out of Marxism using these techniques.
A Brittle System
However, Marxists can’t consider anything except class warfare, the internal contridictions inside the capitalist system, the alienation of the workers and so on, and the utterly inevitable processes of history that will lead to the proletariat’s triumph.
That is what I mean by saying they have very limited axioms, and that is one reason talking with Marxists is so annoying. They are so blinkered and astoundingly circular.
I admire their metaphilosophy but not their philosophy, which is why I enjoy Marxism as a tool of thought but am not tempted to become a Marxist. The Marxists are much underestimated as thinkers these days.
One of the pragmatists, I forget who, said he had not given up Christianity only to adopt a new religion.
If You’re So Smart How Come You Ain’t Rich
If parts of Marxism were so sophisticated then how come they got it so wrong? For Marxism is still a pseudoscience, not a science, of history.
A quick note on that pseudoscience asepct: Marxism claimed to have a bootstrapped quality to it, the ideology itself produced from the inevitable forces of material history. History had produced the proletariat, who produced dialectical materialism. By the forces of history, only the proletariat could achieve the awareness of the world system necessary to take it over and guide it to its glorious conclusion.
This is the Immaculate Conception and the virgin birth of Marxism. It always sat rather uncomfortably with the whole vanguard of the people thing - the leaders were not themselves of the proletariat, usually.
It’s rather delightful.
Perhaps the Marxist personality type was drawn to certainty - the intellectual Marxist I mean, to most Marxists all this stuff was completely irrelevant. Party loyalty was the rank-and-file’s highest and only value.
The answer, I think, is their inability to see the tensions in their worldview and the world. In Christianity and many other ideologies as well, you can explain everything. They are total worldviews, with something to say about everything.
And again, in Marxism these tensions weren’t as evident as they are in other totalizing systems (a gesture toward Foucault here), due to the sophistication of the underlying modes of thought. Brilliant people, brilliantly wrong.