▻ MARXISM AS DIAGNOSIS
Marx and Engels were political and economic theorists and revolutionaries who analysed the nature of capitalism as it stood in their time - 150 years ago - and diagnosed its inherent faults as these appeared to them. Though capitalism has transformed itself in many ways it is still an economic system in which the main pattern of ownership is private property. Private property, in particular capital goods, served the interests of owners of private property : wages were kept as low as possible, prices were kept as high as was practicable for profit, goods and services were created regardless of human need, and whoever could not afford to buy the essentials for life (food, health care and so on) were left outside the economic system - they were the concern of charities and the state.
Workers were exploited through low wages, with the owners of capital picking up the difference between the cost of producing goods and services and the wages paid to labour. Along with exploitation went alienation; the worker sold his or her labour in order to live but had no control over what they produced.
The economy was seen as the basis of the political and social system, with the law and morality accommodating the economic system.
This sketches Marxism in big, crude lines. The enduring attraction of Marx and Engels is that not a few people see in Marx's depiction of capitalism the economic system that prevails in the West and increasingly elsewhere today. Marx's diagnosis seems to them penetrating and sound, no matter that the precise forms of capitalism have changed.
To the extent that this is so - on which I make no comment - Marxism has not been disproved or exploded. Marx offered a permanently relevant diagnosis of the ills of capitalism. I am not trying to make Marx appeal to you; I am only trying to explain why he continues to appeal to a not inconsiderable number of people.
▻ MARXISM AS PREDICTION
What was exploded was something with which Marx and Engels had nothing to do, namely the Communist regimes set up in Russia after 1917 and China after 1949. Marx left no blueprint for how to conduct politics or to reform the economy beyond what can be read off from his critique of capitalism. But one point is that while Marx expected capitalism to collapse under the impact of class consciousness - basically, of the working class realising that they were being exploited and rising en masse to overthrow the capitalist economic system - what happened in Russia and China was nothing of the sort. Communism, supposedly an embodiment of Marx's ideas, was imposed by revolutionary elites on the masses. The masses did not impose the system; they had the system imposed on them. Whatever Marx had, it was not a predictive science of politics.
▻ TWENTIETH-CENTURY COMMUNISM A CARICATURE OF MARX'S IDEAS
From the elites who imposed communism arose the dictatorships of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. While Marx envisaged 'the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat' [mainly industrial working class], a period of transition in which the proletariat would wrench control of the economic system from capitalists ('Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875, 327), what they got was dictatorship over the proletariat in which the revolutionary elites imposed an iron-grip control over them.
None of this derives from Marx.
☛ Central planning
What also came with communism was a centrally planned economy. This again was not Marx's idea. He wanted the workers to run the economy, and said nothing about the state organising the economy from the centre. Von Mises and Hayek and many others have argued on epistemological grounds that a centrally planned economy is inherently flawed and inefficient. This is a matter for technical economic debate. Practically both Soviet and Chinese communism were mired in inefficiency. Whether this was inevitably so, as von Mises and Hayek would argue, or just because they were badly planned and miserably mismanaged, is a question not to be settled here.
Marx's diagnosis of capitalism still seems relevant to not a few. No comment. The regimes that were set up in Marx's name in Russia and China, with their personal dictatorships and central planning, cannot bear the imprimatur of Marx's approval. Marx once said he was not a Marxist - was not as he was interpreted. He would not have recanted that remark in Soviet Russia or Communist China.
[I have given priority to Marx over 'Marx and Engels' because Marx was the creative thinker, Engels the lesser figure.]
K. Marx, 'Critique of the Gotha Programme', Karl Marx & Frederick (sic) Engels, Selected Works in One Volume, London : Lawrence & Wishart, 1968.
Cliff, Tony, Marxism at the Millennium, ISBN 10: 1898876665 / ISBN 13: 9781898876663
Published by Bookmarks, 2000.
Renton, David, Classical Marxism: Socialist Theory and the Second International, ISBN 10: 1873797354 / ISBN 13: 9781873797358
Published by New Clarion Press, 2002.
Brown, Archie, The Rise and Fall of Communism, ISBN 10: 0224078798 / ISBN 13: 9780224078795
Published by Bodley Head, 2009.
F.A. Hayek; Ludwig von Mises; Georg Halm; Enrico Barone; N.G. Pierson, Collectivist Economic Planning, ISBN 10: 1610161629 / ISBN 13: 9781610161626
Published by Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2015.