Friday, April 20, 2018

Should We Give Socialism Another Try?

With the exception of American academics and Western European intellectuals everyone knows that socialism has failed. Everyone certainly knows that Communism has failed miserably… and socialism is nothing but a watered down version of Communism.

We often forget, so it’s time to underscore it, but socialism was an Enlightenment project, an effort to reengineer human society and even human nature in order to provide social justice. To produce, a more just and more egalitarian society. We can argue that it failed because there is no such thing as social justice. So said Friedrich Hayek and he appears to have been correct.

Hayek wrote this:

In these circumstances I could not content myself to show that particular attempts to achieve ‘social justice’ would not work, but had to explain that the phrase meant nothing at all, and that to employ it was either thoughtless or fraudulent. It is not pleasant to have to argue against a superstition which is held most strongly by men and women who are often regarded as the best in our society, and against a belief that has become almost the new religion of our time (and in which many of the ministers of old religion have found their refuge),and which has become the recognized mark of the good man. But the present universality of that belief proves no more the reality of its object than did the universal belief in witches or the philosopher’s stone. Nor does the long history of the conception of distributive justice understood as an attribute of individual conduct (and now often treated as synonymous with ‘social justice’) prove that it has any relevance to the positions arising from the market process. I believe indeed that the greatest service I can still render to my fellow men would be if it were in my power to make them ashamed of ever again using that hollow incantation. I felt it my duty at least to try and free them of that incubus which today makes fine sentiments the instruments for the destruction of all values of a free civilization — and to try this at the risk of gravely offending many the strength of whose moral feelings I respect.

One understands that the French Revolution was the first grandiose attempt to engineer social justice. In the name of justice society was restructured. Those who had held power were executed, and a new class rose up to take charge. Until the advent of Napoleon, of course. But, the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror took their cues from Rousseau’s tract against inequality and attempted to level the social hierarchy by punishing those who had gained too much power.

Does any of this sound familiar?

After the French Revolution, Hegel took over for Rousseau and concocted a grand vision of the movement of human history. By his theories the script had already been written and would play itself out… leading to a kingdom of justice and equality on earth. Some mistakenly believed that Hegel was predicting that history would end with liberal democracy. In truth, those who reconfigure human society in order to make it conform to an ideal state where justice and equality would reign have always ended up producing police states. It applies to Communist states and it also seems now to be applying to American college campuses. 

After all, the endpoint of history, a la Hegel, occurs when the Idea completely escapes its relationships with sensuous form… and that means that we will all think the same thoughts and believe the same beliefs. Thus, that we would all bask in the Idea… as you can observe, this can only be accomplished when the state polices everyone’s thought. There is no place for a marketplace of ideas. In the final reckoning there will only be a monopoly of ideas, held by the state. The reasoning says that once we believe fully in ideas of justice and equality the society will naturally become more just and more equal.

By now, most of the world knows that Communism does not work. With exceptions like Cuba and Venezuela, most of the human species has tossed Communism into the dustbin of history.

And yet, the more it becomes clear that Communism has failed, the more American academics and professional thinkers, people who have certainly not been hired for their mental prowess, have glommed on to it.

Now, Kristian Niemietz has shown that socialism is having something of a revival, because its proponents cannot accept that it has failed. They are asserting that it has not really been tried. The totalitarian mind, as you likely already know, never admits failure. If reality fails to affirm the truth of an idea, then reality is at fault, or counterrevolutionaries are to blame, or it has not been implemented correctly.

Niemietz writes:

Socialism is extremely in vogue. Opinion pieces which tell us to stop obsessing over socialism’s past failures, and start to get excited about its future potential, have almost become a genre in its own right.

For example, Bhaskhar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin magazine, recently wrote a New York Times article, in which he claimed that the next attempt to build a socialist society will be completely different:

“This time, people get to vote. Well, debate and deliberate and then vote – and have faith that people can organise together to chart new destinations for humanity. Stripped down to its essence, and returned to its roots, socialism is an ideology of radical democracy. […] [I]t seeks to empower civil society to allow participation in the decisions that affect our lives.”

Nathan Robinson, the editor of Current Affairswrote in that magazine that socialism has not “failed”. It has just never been done properly:

“It’s incredibly easy to be both in favour of socialism and against the crimes committed by 20th century communist regimes. […]

When anyone points me to the Soviet Union or Castro’s Cuba and says “Well, there’s your socialism,” my answer […] [is] that these regimes bear absolutely no relationship to the principle for which I am fighting. […] The history of the Soviet Union doesn’t really tell us much about “communism” […]

Why has socialism failed? Simply put, there was not enough democracy, not enough political freedoms. People could not vote. People could not exercise the right to free speech. There was no free press.

Niemietz continues:

Closer to home, Owen Jones wrote that Cuba’s current version of socialism was not “real” socialism – but that it could yet become the real thing:

“Socialism without democracy […] isn’t socialism. […] Socialism means socialising wealth and power […]

Cuba could democratise and grant political freedoms currently denied as well as defending […] the gains of the revolution. […] The only future for socialism […] is through democracy. That […] means organising a movement rooted in people’s communities and workplaces. It means arguing for a system that extends democracy to the workplace and the economy”.

And Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig wrote an article with the self-explanatory title ‘It’s time to give socialism a try’:

“Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.”

As it happens, and to state the obvious, all Communist regimes have always called themselves democratic. They all called themselves Democratic People’s Republics. Their idea of democracy did not involve messy public debates or a balance of power between proponents of different ideas. They believed that only the Party understood the general will of the people—to use Rousseau’s concept. Thus, the people might not understand their true interest—they might vote for Donald Trump or even for Republicans—but their overlords in the Party knew what they really wanted and needed to take power in order to allow the people's will to be expressed.

This allows us to understand all of the mewling over how our sacred democracy was corrupted by the Russians, who managed with a minimal expense, to manipulate American minds and trick them into betraying their best interests by voting for Donald Trump. The question of Russian meddling and Russian collusion involves mind control. It is an expression of bitter resentment by those who believed that they had gained full control over American minds, only to discover that those pesky free-thinking Americans had not done as their overlords had told them and had not done what was surely in their best interest.


Ares Olympus said...

Bernie Sanders calls himself a "Democratic socialist" and would like to prod us in the direction of Scandinavian countries. But I'll admit perhaps that makes more sense to test at a state level than a huge country like the US. States make an interesting experiment with "open borders" where one state's "generous social net" will encourage more poor people to move there and encourage "poor" states to bus their "problem" people to wealthier states. So to me that's the problem with socialism - at its best it might raise better citizens, but it can't afford to take everyone in who would benefit by joining. And its doubly bad if some states are wealthy by exploiting one time resources, like oil exporting states and countries do.

David Foster said...

Off-topic: Stuart, I linked your Arranged Marriage post here:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you... I also linked it in a separate post.

Sam L. said...

No. HELL, NO! (See: Venezuela.)

SteveP said...

If these fools want an example of "real" socialism with radical democracy, free press, etc they have to look no further than California, a prime example of socialism "done right" and a state in its death throes.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the neosocialists are right: Welfare states do work in places like Norway and Denmark because their societies are so homogeneous. It's easy to get along, it's easy to agree to take care of each other, when everyone looks, talks, and pretty much thinks exactly the same. And by "looks" I mean very pale skin. Not so easy to do in a racially diverse country like the United States.

But I guess it might work in lily-white Vermont or Minnesota. The neosocialists should give it a try if they want to. That could prove if white socialism could work in the US too, although it still leaves open the question of why brown socialism in practice today in places like Cuba and Venezuela always degenerates into totalitarianism.

Anonymous said...

“Communism & Socialism are ideal societies reached only if men do what is necessary to attain them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, & slaughter.” –Derived from Isaiah Berlin

Anonymous said...


Democracy combined with buying votes with other people's money.

If you are a recipient, would you ever vote against it? That's how it works.

JK Brown said...

"the more American academics and professional thinkers, people who have certainly not been hired for their mental prowess, have glommed on to it."

Well, socialism is the philosophy of losers. Who better to glom onto it than those who are envious of those who have had success in the current conditions. In truth, socialism is just feudalism by committee and PR.

"State control is to take its place. Here we have socialism confessedly as a philosophy of failure. Just to the extent that the socialists insist on their inability to accumulate as much wealth as others, under existing conditions, they are unconsciously advertising their own industrial inefficiency. They clamor for a philosophy of failure -- for a system in which they shall be relieved from the inevitable results of their relative inferiority in obtaining the material means which they regard as essential to their idealistic ends."

--"Socialism a Philosophy of Failure", Laughlin, J.L., Scribner's magazine, 1909

But here is the best description of socialism I've found and ignored by the "educated strata":

"First, what is the best the socialists, in their writings, can offer us? What do the most optimistic of them say? That our subsistence will be guaranteed, while we work; that some of us, the best of us, may earn a surplus above what is actually necessary for our subsistence; and that surplus, like a good child, we may "keep to spend." We may not use it to better our condition, we may not, if a fisherman, buy another boat with it, if a farmer, another field ; we may not invest it, or use it productively ; but we can spend it like the good child, on candy — on something we consume, or waste it, or throw it away.

"Could not the African slave do as much? In fact, is not this whole position exactly that of the ... slave? He, too, was guaranteed his sustenance; he, too, was allowed to keep and spend the extra money he made by working overtime; but he was not allowed to better his condition, to engage in trade, to invest it, to change his lot in life. Precisely what makes a slave is that he is allowed no use of productive capital to make wealth on his own account. The only difference is that under socialism, I may not be compelled to labor (I don't even know as to that — socialists differ on the point), actually compelled, by the lash, or any other force than hunger. And the only other difference is that the ... slave was under the orders of one man, while the subject of socialism will be under the orders of a committee of ward heelers. You will say, the slave could not choose his master, but we shall elect the ward politician. So we do now. Will that help much? Suppose the man with a grievance didn't vote for him?"

--Socialism; a speech delivered in Faneuil hall, February 7th, 1903, by Frederic J. Stimson