Most Americans do not understand what Marx was writing about when he described a socialist or Communist system. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, the socialist or Communist system was to be a stateless, classless, moneyless, wage-less society. In this society, all of its members voluntarily contributed their time and labor to the betterment and happiness of society to the very best of their ability, taking only that which they needed for themselves and their families in turn. This is what Marx meant when he stated, "Each according to his ability, and each according to his needs."
This hopelessly Utopian system would have required a population of James Madison's angels (from The Federalist Papers No. 51) in order to work. Men however, are not angels and as Mr. Madison stated so succinctly:
"It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices (the system of checks and balances between the three co-equal branches of government proposed under America's Constitution) should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."
I believe that what James Madison wrote about America's political system, must ultimately be applied to all of humanity's institutions, political, social and economic, not just governments. No institution can long police itself, or remain vital and subservient to the needs of those it serves, and the needs of the changing times, without a system of checks and balances.
The missing ingredient in left-wing, European political theory has always been this sort of American pragmatism. I.F. Stone was more right than he knew when he said that a truly American Socialism would be the marriage of Karl Marx's political and economic theories with Thomas Jefferson's social and economic democracy. But it is this pragmatism that prevents many Americans from seriously considering the most visionary--as well as the most outrageous--parts of the European left-wing parties programs, the ones that attract so many adherents in Europe and elsewhere around the World.
The United States was the first nation to officially recognize the importance of the individual as well as the collective in the need for, and the running of, its political institutions. But just as the community as a whole cannot always take precedence over the individual or the small minority contained within it, so too the individual or minority cannot always take precedence over the collective whole. A representative democracy in a constitutionally limited republic such as ours cannot afford to permit a small pseudo-aristocracy to continually undermine a nation's long-term best interests for their short-term gain, as the top One Percent has done in the United States for the last thirty-plus years. Providing for t he needs of the majority, the minority, and the individual, cannot be determined on a "one size fits all" basis. This decision must be made, in terms of its importance to society, within a given set of circumstances, on a case by case basis.
Professor Stephen Hawking is an outstanding example of why decisions that affect the individual and the community must be made on a case by case basis. In the United States, according to the sort of cost benefit analysis that an American insurance company actuary would use, Professor Hawking would have found himself without health insurance to pay for his medical expenses soon after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's disease, fifty years ago. Due to the aggressive treatment of his condition by Great Britain's "socialized" medical system, Professor Hawking is still alive, and setting the world of Science on its ear fifty years after his initial diagnosis. If he had lived here in the United States, he would have been dead forty years ago. The choice of using the collective economic power of the state to support the individual has, in Hawking's case, paid bonuses to the larger groups (Great Britain and the World) many times over.
Marx's greatest failing as a philosopher is tied directly to his greatest failing as a human being: a lack of empathy. Karl Marx had an authoritarian streak, thanks to his Prussian upbringing. This combined with his belief in humanity's ability to act in a consistently rational manner, was combined with a nearly religious faith that when humanity finally learned to think rationally, humanity's values and beliefs would be identical with those of Karl Marx. Marx believed that humanity only needed to be led to a completely rational state of thinking, together with a full understanding of his Communist ideas, for his worker's paradise to spring into existence. His lack of empathy, together with his lack of understanding of human psychology--both mass and individual--doomed his idea for a worker's paradise to be nothing more than a pipe dream from the outset.