Socialism Redux: Be Careful What You Wish For

Essay, Culture Wars, Philip Carl Salzman

With the crash of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the escape of its Eastern European satellites in the 1990s, and the transition of China from socialism to state capitalism beginning with the economic reforms of 1978 and carried out energetically ever since,[1] the decline of communist Cuba to an offshore holiday resort for Canadians and Europeans,[2] and the recent collapse, of socialist Venezuela,[3]it appeared that socialism definitively failed in practice and had lost its appeal as an ideology. In an influential essay entitled “The End of History?” Francis Fukuyama argued that, in the above-mentioned events, we were witness to “an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.”[4]

Of course, socialist parties have been present in many European countries throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and at some time and in some countries, have been dominant. But they have tended to be “pink” rather than “red,” and have generally favoured welfare state policies rather than the takeover of the means of production. For example, the British Labour Party abandoned state ownership of the means of production in a 1993 revision of Clause IV of its constitution.[5]

Yet socialism has recently become a strong orientation in the American political scene, and continues to be the foundational principle of the Canadian New Democratic Party. In the U.S., “Attitudes toward socialism among Democrats have not changed materially since 2010, with 57% today having a positive view. The major change among Democrats has been a less upbeat attitude toward capitalism, dropping to 47% positive this year.” Furthermore, all “Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).”[6]

The socialist leaning of young people should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with our educational system, from primary school through university, which has been captured by leftists and far leftists.[7] Education these days consists largely of anti-Western and anti-capitalist, as well as anti-white and anti-male political propaganda.[8]

This socialist orientation was reflected in the 2016 Democrat Party presidential primary, which likely would have gone to the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, if the race has not been fixed by the Democrat Party National Committee. And the pro-socialist orientation was seen in the 2018 election to the House of Representatives and subsequent pronouncements of declared socialist Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

Democrat adherents claim that they are “democratic socialist,” but the USSR always claimed that it championed democracy vs. capitalism, and North Korea is officially “the Democratic Workers Republic of Korea [which] is a genuine workers’ state in which all the people are completely liberated from exploitation and oppression.”[9] The record for socialism on the democracy front is not better than its record on freedom and prosperity; on all three counts it has been a massive failure.

Socialist Equality

The object of socialism is to increase economic equality by evening out the wealth in society among individuals and families. This is done by taking wealth from those with more than the average and redistributing it to those with less than the average. As wealth will not usually be voluntarily surrendered, the redistribution would have to be enforced by government agencies backed by laws and administrative regulations.

Equality is an important value in post-Enlightenment Western culture. It was first advanced historically as equality before the law, then evolved into equality of opportunity, and, in socialist theory, is framed as equality of results. Equality of results severs the relationship between production and distribution, as seen in Marx’s slogan, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” But even Stalin wished to maintain some connection between production and distribution, inserting into the Soviet Constitution the modified slogan, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his work.”[10]

Advocates of equality of result demand an even more radical disconnect between work and reward. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez notoriously circulated a summary of her Green New Deal proposal advocating state economic support for those “unable or unwilling to work.”[11]

Production and distribution

The focus of socialism is redistribution of wealth. Neglected, when not disdained, is production. So, a central practical problem of socialism is the lack of production of goods and services that it wishes to redistribute. One major critique of socialism is that the disconnect between work and reward undermines the motivation to work and to innovate. Why take risks when the profits, if one is successful, goes to others?

Socialist governments must redistribute come hell or high water, and the decline of production turns out to be hell and high water. That is why Margaret Thatcher said, “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”[12] Socialist governments have a monetary solution to that problem: they just print more money. That works momentarily, and from then on, inflation increases exponentially until all money is worthless and cannot buy any goods or services, if there were any to buy, which there aren’t. Inflation in Venezuela reached 80,000% in 2018.[13] Socialist equality becomes equal poverty and starvation for all.

Equality uber alles

While equality is an important Western value, it is by no means the only one:

Prosperity is another major value, and prosperity is lost as production falls into eclipse. Efficiency is lost, as equality become the sole value. Goods and services are not developed and not made available.

Freedom is another major value, and freedom is largely curtailed under socialism. With wealth expropriation and redistribution, people lose the ability to save, to invent, to move, to purchase, and to donate. Absolute equality and absolute freedom are absolutely incompatible; the coexistence of equality and freedom requires limits on both.

Justice is yet another value. If justice is giving each person his or her due, then taking wealth from those who have earned it, in order to give it to those who have not earned it, is at best a dubious practice.

Socialist governance

The more the economy is under government control, the more power the government and its agencies are. The consequences of this are serious, as power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Government-controlled economies are highly inefficient, because economies are extremely complex and fast moving, while bureaucracies are notoriously clumsy and slow.

Economic equality that requires strong government results in political inequality, with political leaders and the nomenklatura, the bureaucratic elite, in political control. In the socialist political hierarchy, those at the top have close to absolute power, and those below no power.

Socialism has proven incompatible with democracy. Notoriously, socialist countries are proudly dictatorships, one party states, and totalitarian in culture and security.[14] Security agencies have a free hand to insure conformity.

Discussion

The main reason that socialism has gained popularity in North America is that everyone likes “free stuff,” especially “free money.” It is not difficult to see the attraction in voting for people who promise to shift wealth your way.

Feeding into support for socialism is envy. In spite of the 10th Commandment–“You must not be envious of your neighbour’s goods. You shall not be envious of his house nor his wife, nor anything that belongs to your neighbour”—it is human to envy those with more and better. However, it is doubtful that it is good social policy to base political policy on base sentiments. While it is true that electoral systems are open to such pandering, it would be wise to avoid it.

Today’s greed and envy has been caused by the decline in the American character. “The bourgeois values of honesty, fidelity, diligence, reticence, delayed gratification, and self-control that once reigned supreme have been contested for many decades by an ethic of self-expression, self-indulgence, instant gratification, and demanding the impossible.”[15] Of course, today it is forbidden to mention to decline of individual virtue in America, and any mention brings a mob of “social justice” enforcers to destroy anyone who brings it up.[16]

The reason for the decline of American character is that belief in American values have been replaced with cultural relativism and multiculturalism claiming that all values, beliefs, and cultures are equally good, and, really, that non-American values are better than American values. For the left, American values are greed, racism, and militarism. The left believes that the solution to American values is socialism.

For those Americans who do not wish to follow the road of the USSR, Communist China, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, there is an alternative route. Infantilization of the population by an all-giving government is not only pathetic but highly dangerous, as absolute power results in absolute corruption, destroying democracy. Instead of revolutionizing America to make absolute economic equality the sole and single value and goal as the socialists wish, we might try to find a practical balance among the American values of equality, freedom, prosperity, and individual justice.