Thursday, February 04, 2010

What History Has Taught Me About Socialism and Communism

I was called out on another blog to show the historical evidence backing up my low opinion of Socialism, and rather than respond there, I decided to give it some thought and post my reasoning here.

Socialism has been an intermittent part of the human experience for a long time. It has never lasted long in any society that has tried it, but it remains a popular system. Why?

Superficially, Socialism (and it's purest form, Communism) looks very attractive from a financial standpoint - certainly to those in the lower strata of society, especially poor societies. Essentially, everyone pitches in for a fair share. Since the poorest classes of any given society also tend to be the largest, democratic societies will always tend toward socialism. It makes sense, as people vote their interests. A colleague of mine, who is Chinese, pretty much agrees with this. He believes that communism is good for China, because before communism, he said the people had nothing. Note that he lives here in Capitalist America, however, so it's good for them, but not necessarily him.

You don't really have to dig to hard to see why socialism doesn't last, however. In order for it to work as advertised, you have to have a 100 percent buy-in. Everyone in the society has to play by the rules - there is just no room for people to do their own thing. If people were allowed to pursue their own dreams and ambitions rather than working towards the common good, problems would arise - inequity comes into the equation and you're back to square one.
So, how do you prevent this?

In theory, you have to concentrate power in the hands of government. All financial matters are controlled by government. All businesses are owned by the state. All work therefore is done in service to the state. The state then distributes the wealth created in an even manner to all participants.

However, in reality, you really can't. Here's why.

-Black markets will arise in even the most controlled economies, despite the wishes of the powers that be, and the punishments meted out for participating.

-The people in charge - and there always has to be people in charge, especially in these cases, to ensure distribution - have to be trustworthy. They have to have society's best interests at heart. They have to participate in the system too. To date, I don't believe that any socialist society has succeeded at finding these so-called "right people". Power corrupts. Power always corrupts. These people are guiding the society, so they're entitled to a little more of a share, right? They're important, so they need state protection, right? In order to protect them, they need housing away from the masses, right? It's a stressful job, so they need more leisure, right? And so on. Wow. We've just created a class system again - this time political, rather than financial. Whatever; you still get "haves" and "have-nots".

-Equal pay, but not equal work. There will always be an element of society that simply does not work. There are three main groups here: The incapable, the most sympathetic group (although some socialist societies preferred to remove, rather than support them); the criminal (there will always be a subset of any society that finds it easier to take what they want rather than work for it); and the plain lazy. As it becomes apparent that people are entitled to the same share regardless of the effort put in, this group expands as those who work begin to see that they don't benefit any more than those who do not.

-Individual liberty must be sacrificed upon the altar of the common good. Liberty and Socialism cannot coexist - at least, not for long. The needs of the individual must always yield to those of the state - otherwise, you'd get back to that horrid class system in no time. This is the most sinister aspect of the system for me - that I must subject my own personal dreams, rights and liberties to the whim of society at large. If I refuse, I may be imprisoned or executed. In no way will I be permitted to live in liberty within such a system. Nor can I leave. History bears this out. This is where the bodies start to pile up. If everyone who wanted to leave left, why, who would do the work necessary for the functioning of such a society? That's one reason why there is a lot of animosity towards America in the world. Our country is a shining example of what is possible when individuals are left alone to realize their potential. Our very existence is a threat to Socialism, because as long as there is an America, based upon our founding principles, people in Socialist states will always be able to see - to know - that the grass is greener on the other side. For this reason alone, Socialism will always fail as long as people can see that there is an alternative.

OK, enough of my simplistic opinions and observations. On to some examples of Socialism in history, in answer to Markadelphia's challenge:

The Plymouth Colony, 1620. Their socialist experiment almost wiped them out. Fail.
New Harmony, Indiana, 1825-29. Lasted four years before collapsing. Fail.
Brook Farm, 1841-44. Held out for three years. Fail.

"But wait!" I hear you say. "These were all small societies, with limited access to resources. Surely there are examples of larger societies with more resources that lasted much longer!"

Yes, there are. I believe that large societies, with a wealthier starting point in terms of resources and manpower, can (but not always) tolerate the drain of Socialism for longer periods. But not indefinitely. The current record holder is the Soviet Union - a huge state, we can all agree, with vast tracts of land, plenty of mineral wealth and a large population to exploit.

They lasted sixty-nine years.

Other examples include Tunisia (less than ten years), Tanzania (gave up after 20 years or so in the face of famines and starvation - but hey, they got the literacy rates up!), Grenada (four years - guess they just couldn't get along).
There's a list here of many more if you're interested. Note the list of former states is much larger than current.
And who could forget Nazi Germany. Twelve years. Yes, it was a socialist state.

A feature common to these but maybe not readily obvious until I included Nazi Germany is the huge body count. You never get 100% participation in these societies, as I stated. Well, that is just an obstacle to be overcome for the true believers. They see no disconnect at all in killing millions of people in order to make life better.

So, my opinions, my observations and the historical record show me that Socialism as a system of government is doomed to fail every single time, with disastrous and often lethal results for its participants. YMMV, especially if your name is Markadelphia.


Julie said...

Good response to his nonesense. Although, I don't see how anyone can have a different opinion on this subject. A rat in a cage sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Julia said...

Well said honey!

Markadelphia said...

I'm not certain where to even start here.

Alright, first of all, Nazi Germany was not a socialist state. Stop with Goldberg BS. Here is a quote from a review of his book that sums it up quite nicely.

"What these historians record -- but Goldberg variously ignores or minimizes -- is that the "socialism" of "National Socialism" was in fact purely a kind of ethnic economic nationalism, which offered "socialist" support to purely "Aryan" German business entities, and that the larger Nazi cultural appeal was built directly around an open antipathy to all things liberal or leftist. Indeed, whole chapters of Mein Kampf are devoted to vicious smears and declarations of war against "the Left," and not merely the Marxism that Goldberg acknowledges was a major focus of Hitler's animus."

Second, let's take a look at Socialism in the 21st Century

I would agree with you that many of those countries would not be a great place to live. In fact, they would be awful. But to say that China and India are "failures" is simply not accurate. Are they not becoming economic superpowers with socialist institutions?

And that's really the key here...socialist institutions. We have several in our country and they work just fine. The public library, for example, operates quite well in tandem with Barnes and Noble. Fire departments also serve the public good. Medicare has not been responsible for the deaths of millions at the hands of The State and is quite popular.

You see, Kevin, it's not that I want an entirely socialist government here. I would agree with you that such a government would be terrible. It's that I'm not nuclear-hyper paranoid about having socialist tendencies in our culture as you appear to be.

I was hoping that you would address the years 1933-1945 in your essay but I did not see that anywhere. We were far closer to socialism back at that time then we are now. Did our country perish in flames? Were millions killed during the recovery from the Depression in the name of The State? Did you have any outrage when GM was nationalized in order to build tanks to beat the Nazis?

In the beginning of this, you link the Wiki entry for Utopia. In my mind, there is nothing "Utopia" like about socialism or socialist leanings. The ideology has some good ideas and some bad ones. It's not a cure all. I tend to take the blank slate approach when it comes to human nature and our culture in America will always prevent us from falling anywhere near socialism. We embody the spirit of independence and freedom too much to have a collective culture. We like our shit and we don't want anyone else touching it. There's nothing wrong with that--I'm that way too.

It's always going to be that way. One need only look at how well health care reform has gone to see that my point is accurate.

Kevin said...

I also didn't address the soft socialism of Europe either. It was a post, rather than a book and to cover all aspects of socialism would take at least a book. I grew up in a country with a strong socialist bent so I've seen what happens to a society that flirts with it. That's why I'm here rather than there, and why I'm "nuclear-hyper" about avoiding such stuff here. You see, Markadelphia, I've LIVED it. I chose differently. As to Nazi Germany not being socialist, I can't help you if you refuse educate yourself. No one on the political continuum wants to own that particular system but if you look objectively at what they espoused, I don't understand why you cannot call it socalism.
As for China and India, we'll just have to see. China is already moving away from communism to more of a free market system, albeit a very authoritarian one. India is less socialist than you perhaps assume.
As for your assertion about US socialism during the war years, I'll be frank and say I don't know enough US history to have an opinion about that a the moment. Give me some time to research that and I'll get back to you.

Markadelphia said...

England, right? They sure do have problems there. It's funny...I have this romanticized view of England because I love the music from there so much. I know how bad it has become. Is it exclusively because of socialism, though? It seems to me that there is more wrong with their system than just that. I've been there twice but only for a few weeks each time. The first time was in 1984 during the coal miner's strike. It was pretty intense.

I lived in France for a year and found some good and bad. I thought their health care model was excellent. But they are a smaller country and have us looking out for them. No one has our backs so their system wouldn't fly here.

"I don't understand why you cannot call it socialism."

Because Hitler hated Marx. That's the short version. The long version is the that they were more "nationalist" than "socialist." Socialism, by its very definition, espouses "equality" for all. The Nazis wanted equality only for those loyal to their dictator. And even then...not really. They hated all people of other races, sexual preferences, and political ideology. The left in this country wants to include everyone. That's why Goldberg fails. If he wants to rant about the left being least he's closer. But fascist? No.

China-yep. At the end of the day, our system is better. Eventually, they will end up there just like all the rest:)

Side note-thanks for the link to the Utopia article. I really enjoyed the paintings and the ideas presented there. Very informative!

DirtCrashr said...

The main "socialist institution" of India is an infrastructure relic of entrenched bureaucratic nepotism, and the last remaining remnant of British colonialism - The Indian Civil Service. It's a system of apparatchiks that resists change and gratifies the petty bureaucrat, while growing itself in every direction.
Otherwise (and finally) the Fabian socialism of Nehru and Indira Ghandi had to give way, or India would never have succeeded on the world stage as any kind of economic success. If India is becoming a "powerhouse" it's despite overcoming the limitations of Socialist institutions, certainly not because of them.
But I wonder what "socialist institutions" he thinks exist there? Socialist racism is endemic and a part of the basic cultural fabric, enshrined in the Varnas in ancient Hindu scriptures and delivered into Indian society as the Caste system still today.

Markadelphia said...

Dirt, you can start here.

DirtCrashr said...

Sorry kid, I grew up there and I'm glad to see most of it going away.