I would have to agree with the remarks of the other posters. The biggest downfall of Marxism is the lack of personal freedoms. I also agree with the first poster that capitalism has provided a better standard of living than marxism.
I agree wholly with akannan's insightful post. Marxism (with a capital "M") has failed as a large-scale form of government, but marxism (with a small "m") still works very well. We still need powerful tools for understanding how power is distributed, ideologies are constructed and maintained, and so on.
On a side note, I'm not sure that it's accurate to say that the collapse of the Soviet Union is the same thing as the failure of Marxism. The Soviet Union and the United States were engaged in decades of economic and military competition -- pumping huge amounts of money into their militaries, exporting their ideals and governments around the world, and often fighting each other in Third World countries all over the globe. The United States and West Germany even invested a great deal of resources into West Berlin in order to "showcase" the wealth of the West. I can imagine that, in a less hostile world, different forms of government could exist side-by-side and not be locked in a death struggle.
I think that a compelling case can be made that the theoretical conditions of Marxism were not fully repudiated. The political expression of Marxism might have been deferred, but the issues of class conflict, examining the primacy placed on wealth, as well as viewing reality through the lens of materialism and conflict are as alive today as they have been. Recent American History can prove this. The Election of 2008 turned immediately in Autumn when the economic crisis hit and the failure of institutions like AIG and Lehman Brothers became a reality. One of Marxism's major points is that economics underscores human consciousness. Certainly, this was proven to be so in that the election immediately turned on that point to economic solvency. What candidates said on the economy and how they proposed to address economic issues became the defining element in the political realm. The subsequent criticism of the bailout programs offered to multimillion dollar organizations with few such resources offered to working class individuals is another Marxist critique. Finally, the health care debate which is holding the attention of the nation now is, at its root, a Marxist one. The role of government is being assessed in terms of how it provides assistance to all of its individuals, especially those who have been disenfranchised, and in this light, a Marxist analysis is actually being offered.
Intellectually speaking, Marxism is challenged with its assessment of human freedom. This does not necessarily make it rejected, but rather tempers it to an extent. One of the reasons why Marxism is challenged is because it views human freedom and action as being determined largely, if not solely, by economic reality. Such a premise is debated by those who believe that other forces guide human action and consciousness, like, for example, psychological experiences. The role of human freedom and whether one can live outside of social and material conditions is a critique of Marxist thought. Another reason why Marxist thought is tempered is that it has been seen in line with other valences of reality. Class is now seen as convergent with race/ ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, amongst other conditions. Pure Marxist thought sees nothing but class, but this has been modified over time as these other experiences have been articulated as an essential component of individual narrative. The last reason why Marxism might be criticized is that the proliferation of information technology challenges it to a certain extent. One of the strongest components of Marxist thought is the "ownership of the means of production" remaining in the hands of elite, the wealthy. The democratizing effect of the Internet removes this to an extent, as anyone can compete with anyone or anything else. The internet is not merely a tool of the absolute rich. As the internet grows, ideas are more freely exchanged, and in the process, a critical element in the means of production is democratized. How Marx would analyze this drastic development, unforeseen at the time of his writing, is what makes Marxist thought shrug its shoulders to a certain extent.
Historically and politically, Marxism has mainly been rejected for two reasons:
- It failed to allow people to express themselves in the ways they wanted to (few freedoms)
- More importantly, I believe, it failed to provide people with the standard of living that capitalism was able to provide people living under that system.
The Soviet Union was the leader of the Marxist/communist world. When it collapsed (due to popular unrest caused by the above two reasons) the ideas of Marxism were discredited almost completely. This is why there are very few countries where Marxism is still practiced today.