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On Socialism’s Flaws

Mike Kozinski  ’21, Guest Writer

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has changed the Democratic Party forever. Almost no one could have predicted in 2015 that an octogenarian with no professional image handlers would not only pose a threat to the Democratic Party establishment, but that he would also do so while openly describing himself as a “democratic socialist.” Prior to Sanders’ insurgency campaign, any politician who openly described themselves as “socialist” would have been marked for political demise. More than two years after his run, the Democratic Socialists of America elected two members to congress in the 2018 Midterm elections: Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Socialism is unquestionably a rising trend in American politics. 

However, like all new trends, society must carefully analyze its merits or lack thereof. While socialism’s roots predate Karl Marx, he was nevertheless inspired by it. In Chapter Two of The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote of a socialist transition period in which everyone was of the same socioeconomic status and the means of production would be collectively controlled: “in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation.” 

Regardless of its roots, socialism resulted in disaster. Not only did socialism fail in every country it was ever implemented in, but despite denialism from modern socialists, it was implemented exactly as Karl Marx intended. Karl Marx envisioned a totalitarian state in The Communist Manifesto. He envisioned such a state because he knew that communism would require one in order to be implemented. He knew that socialist governments would have to steal property from their rightful owners in order for his utopia to be achieved: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State…Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property (Chapter Two, The Communist Manifesto).” Marx also accurately predicted that his philosophy would require violence in order to be enacted: “The Communists…openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions (Chapter Four, The Communist Manifesto).” 

The problem with the Eastern Bloc and every other socialist country is not that they did not implement authentic socialism: it was that they did implement authentic socialism. Socialist regimes the world over were characterized by despotism and violence because socialism itself is characterized by despotism and violence. It is only predictable that an ideology that advocates for the theft of private property would have inherently objectionable and immoral characteristics and outcomes. 

Moreover, since these regimes centralized all production under the control of the state as per Marx’s policy prescriptions, their economies inevitably stagnated. Goods and services were provided by government monopolies and not through businesses competing in a free market. Consequently, the quality of goods and services provided deteriorated, and rather than allowing market forces to set prices and allocate resources, central planners did those tasks. They failed every time. They either set prices too low, which resulted in shortages, or they set prices too high, which resulted in a surplus of goods and services that were unaffordable except for those with the necessary political connections. In essence, this meant that ordinary workers never received the wealth that they were promised. Socialism is not an ideology of protecting workers: it is an ideology of exploiting them. Every socialist country in history is proof of this. 

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once articulated that “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” The rise of openly socialist politicians is worrisome. The results of socialism are unequivocally disastrous. Socialism inherently requires despotism and violence in order to be implemented, and it annihilates the necessary economic incentives to create wealth. These results inevitably occur wherever socialism is practiced. The failure of socialism is a terrible legacy that the Eastern Bloc and other former socialist countries will continue to pay for years. It is a cost that Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela will soon discover when they too relinquish socialism. The only thing worse would be to believe the empty political rhetoric that promises Americans more wealth under socialism. That would condemn another country to repeat what the rest of the world has repented instead. 

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3 Comments

3 Responses to “On Socialism’s Flaws”

  1. Billy Irving on February 2nd, 2019 7:51 pm

    The Communist Manifesto isn’t meant to be an instruction manual, it was more of a motivational call to action that would be disseminated among the proletarian class to explain the most basic tenants of Marx’s Scientific Socialism and encourage the development of a class consciousness. I would recommend reading some of Marx’s other pieces, his various essays on the Value Theory of Labor, and the like. In these essays, Marx explains the crux of his ideas, that when you enter an employment contract, you’re actually essentially selling your labor in exchange for wages, which you then use to purchase essential and non-essential commodities. Obviously, it is within any employer’s interest to pay you /less/ than what your labor is worth, because otherwise they wouldn’t make a profit. He also explains the distinction between private property (the means of production: factories, farms, etc.) and personal property (your toothbrush, etc.). It is the former, which he foresees the proletariat commandeering during the revolution, that is, the workers claiming and cooperatively managing factories, so that can fairly reap those factories’ production. This is the “stealing” that you describe.

    This “dictatorship of the proletariat” is actually supposed to be democratically run. It’s a direct democracy run by the proletarian class, hence the dictatorship, since the workers are the ones dictating the society. It’s also supposed to be a temporary stage that gives way to a classless, stateless society once all private property is socialized. This eventual anarchistic society would then finally be “communist”. It’s hard to imagine this happening, and Marx says that it would take place far in the future. Until then, society would only be “socialist”.

    The “running out of other people’s money” adage could easily be applied to capitalism. Eventually we will run out of new markets and resources, and demand will greatly outweigh supply. Vladimir Lenin expanded on Marx’s writings, and described how imperialism results from capitalism. Once an isolated country like England runs out of new markets, it needs to imperialize other nations to find new resources to build markets.

    You may be interested to know that Lenin actually introduced “free markets” to the Soviet Union after the Russian Civil War. It came through the form of the New Economic Policy, and it was introduced in order to keep the economy of the Soviet Union viable. This is a policy that completely contradicts anything that Marx says, so I’d have to disagree with your argument that the Soviet Union, among other countries, applied Marxism in an orthodox manner. My disagreement is compounded by countries like China, which is founded on the Mao’s “Third Worldism”, and North Korea’s Juche (a sort of nationalism). Both of these ideologies cannot be called “Marxist”.

    Onto your point about violence: While it is true that self-described socialist countries have taken part in state violence, this is not an attribute reserved for leftist ideologies. Some of the biggest crimes in history have been undertaken in the name of capitalism. Consider Leopold II’s genocide in the Congo Free State, with a death toll between 2 and 13 million. This violence was perpetrated for the sake of ivory extraction and transport to Belgium, to be sold in capitalist markets. This is a perfect example of capitalist state violence, and speaks to Lenin’s theories about imperialism. We might also consider some of the atrocities committed by our own country in the name of colonialism and capitalism, and those of other Western countries.

    Finally, I would bring up the point that problems that occur within so-called socialist countries is sometimes a result of external influencers. Right from the get-go, the U.S. saw the Soviet Union as a threat and actually sent troops to Russia to try to change the tide of the Civil War in the former monarchy’s favor. We saw socialism as a threat, because if the idea gained too much popularity in the U.S. it could result in business owners losing their factories and other means of production. Doesn’t it make sense that a ideology which espouses the collective ownership of the means of production would scare the few that currently own those means? Wouldn’t want to make such an ideology look evil, and fight it wherever it crops up? This is why we engage in economic war against any country which decides to be socialist, only making their economies weaker and their political systems more fragile. This is also why the United States has imprisoned American socialist leaders like Eugene Debs have been imprisoned for sedition, why McCarthyism occurred, and why the FBI engaged in COINTELPRO to destroy leftist groups like the Black Panther Party.

    I’m not trying to defend any state-violence perpetrated by these so-called socialist states. State-violence is bad no matter who commits it. I’m just trying to provide a little more context for this very nuanced issue.

    Modern day liberals who call themselves socialist, like Bernie Sanders, still support a capitalist economic system. They are better called “Social Democrats”, who still believe in Liberal philosophies like the free market, but also support social welfare and government programs.

    Not all socialism is Karl Marx. There are a lot of other great writers who have totally different ideas for a socialist society. Marx is special because of the way he applied Hegelian dialectics to economic history, to illuminate this trend of class-conflicts. Some other socialist philosophers like Rosa Luxemburg built off of his theories. Others, like Kropotkin and Bakunin have totally different ideas. Even Albert Einstein wrote an about socialism, called “Why Socialism?”.

  2. Billy Irving on February 7th, 2019 7:27 pm

    The Communist Manifesto isn’t meant to be an instruction manual, it was more of a motivational call to action that would be disseminated among the proletarian class to explain the most basic tenants of Marx’s Scientific Socialism and encourage the development of a class consciousness. I would recommend reading some of Marx’s other pieces, his various essays on the Value Theory of Labor, and the like. In these essays, Marx explains the crux of his ideas, that when you enter an employment contract, you’re actually essentially selling your labor in exchange for wages, which you then use to purchase essential and non-essential commodities. Obviously, it is within any employer’s interest to pay you /less/ than what your labor is worth, because otherwise they wouldn’t make a profit. He also explains the distinction between private property (the means of production: factories, farms, etc.) and personal property (your toothbrush, etc.). It is the former, which he foresees the proletariat commandeering during the revolution, that is, the workers claiming and cooperatively managing factories, so that can fairly reap those factories’ production. This is the “stealing” that you describe.

    This “dictatorship of the proletariat” is actually supposed to be democratically run. It’s a direct democracy run by the proletarian class, hence the dictatorship, since the workers are the ones dictating the society. It’s also supposed to be a temporary stage that gives way to a classless, stateless society once all private property is socialized. This eventual anarchistic society would then finally be “communist”. It’s hard to imagine this happening, and Marx says that it would take place far in the future. Until then, society would only be “socialist”.

    The “running out of other people’s money” adage could easily be applied to capitalism. Eventually we will run out of new markets and resources, and demand will greatly outweigh supply. Vladimir Lenin expanded on Marx’s writings, and described how imperialism results from capitalism. Once an isolated country like England runs out of new markets, it needs to imperialize other nations to find new resources to build markets.

    You may be interested to know that Lenin actually introduced “free markets” to the Soviet Union after the Russian Civil War. It came through the form of the New Economic Policy, and it was introduced in order to keep the economy of the Soviet Union viable. This is a policy that completely contradicts anything that Marx says, so I’d have to disagree with your argument that the Soviet Union, among other countries, applied Marxism in an orthodox manner. My disagreement is compounded by countries like China, which is founded on the Mao’s “Third Worldism”, and North Korea’s Juche (a sort of nationalism). Both of these ideologies cannot be called “Marxist”.

    Onto your point about violence: While it is true that self-described socialist countries have taken part in state violence, this is not an attribute reserved for leftist ideologies. Some of the biggest crimes in history have been undertaken in the name of capitalism. Consider Leopold II’s genocide in the Congo Free State, with a death toll between 2 and 13 million. This violence was perpetrated for the sake of ivory extraction and transport to Belgium, to be sold in capitalist markets. This is a perfect example of capitalist state violence, and speaks to Lenin’s theories about imperialism. We might also consider some of the atrocities committed by our own country in the name of colonialism and capitalism, and those of other Western countries.

    Finally, I would bring up the point that problems that occur within so-called socialist countries is sometimes a result of external influencers. Right from the get-go, the U.S. saw the Soviet Union as a threat and actually sent troops to Russia to try to change the tide of the Civil War in the former monarchy’s favor. We saw socialism as a threat, because if the idea gained too much popularity in the U.S. it could result in business owners losing their factories and other means of production. Doesn’t it make sense that a ideology which espouses the collective ownership of the means of production would scare the few that currently own those means? Wouldn’t want to make such an ideology look evil, and fight it wherever it crops up? This is why we engage in economic war against any country which decides to be socialist, only making their economies weaker and their political systems more fragile. This is also why the United States has imprisoned American socialist leaders like Eugene Debs have been imprisoned for sedition, why McCarthyism occurred, and why the FBI engaged in COINTELPRO to destroy leftist groups like the Black Panther Party.

    I’m not trying to defend any state-violence perpetrated by these so-called socialist states. State-violence is bad no matter who commits it. I’m just trying to provide a little more context for this very nuanced issue.

    Modern day liberals who call themselves socialist, like Bernie Sanders, still support a capitalist economic system. They are better called “Social Democrats”, who still believe in Liberal philosophies like the free market, but also support social welfare and government programs.

    Not all socialism is Karl Marx. There are a lot of other great writers who have totally different ideas for a socialist society. Marx is special because of the way he applied Hegelian dialectics to economic history, to illuminate this trend of class-conflicts. Some other socialist philosophers like Rosa Luxemburg built off of his theories. Others, like Kropotkin and Bakunin have totally different ideas. Even Albert Einstein wrote an essay about socialism, called “Why Socialism?”.

  3. Gil Sperling on February 8th, 2019 2:28 pm

    There is a significant difference between the democratic socialism of Sanders, et al and that which has brought misery to so many in world. The democratic socialism of Sanders is a reaction to the excessive greed of the past 40 or more years. People who work for a living have not shared in the economic success they have created . Let’s be clear. Ours is a retail economy – I believe 60% of our economy is consumer spending. Hard working people who depend on their paychecks for a living generate the wealth the owners and executives of corporate America share. Put another way, if we didn’t buy their stuff, they would not be rich.

    Yet, despite their large role in creating wealth for the wealthy, working people have seen their real wages decline on a continual basis. Even the economic miracle President I Cannot Stop Lying Trump heralds, has been concentrated at the lowest levels (minimum wage jobs that do not provide a living wage) and among the most highly educated and skilled – the top of economic food chain. Those in the middle have received a heaping dump of increased economic insecurity. And, now they will bear the consequences of the massive debt the Republicans have run up.

    What Sanders is addressing is economic inequality. Capitalism in its purest forms runs toward such inequality in the name of motivating investment. The chance to get rich is a great motivator for innovation and investment and clearly works, but it cannot be unfettered. A caring society recognizes that constraints are required. Constraints in the form of taxpayer subsidized education, health benefits, child care and the other policy prescriptions Sanders offers. This is what democratic socialism is about and why it is becoming so popular. When 10% of the population controls more than 90% of the wealth, when the other 90% struggle to pay for medical care, schooling, their homes, etc, there will be a response. We should recognize that the move to democratic socialism is an inevitable response and should be welcomed.

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On Socialism’s Flaws