LEADERS of the 75 Communist parties meeting in Moscow—and those conspicuously absent—often argue bitterly about what their faith, Marxism, means. More interesting is the question of what Marxism does. How strong is its influence today? What accounts for its ability to renew its appeal? Who needs it?

As a theory of society, Marxism's "laws" have been mocked by events, such as the increasing prosperity of the workers and the near disappearance of cyclical economic crisis. As a political movement and myth, it has been far more successful. Regimes calling themselves Marxist (and who...

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