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Don’t Get Fooled Again: The Continuing Necessity of Anti-Communism

Socialism is having an unprecedented moment in America: opinion polls show its increasing popularity, especially among youths; membership in the Democratic Socialists of America continues to swell; mainstream publications, such as the Washington Post, publish pieces arguing that it is time to give socialism a try; and academics articulate the merits of taking an anti-anti-communist stance. The root cause of each is the same: all people in all times are concerned with flourishing to the greatest extent possible and in darker times the ever-optimistic views of socialism’s proponents have an attractive force not unlike that of the flame to the moth. As history has shown, this attraction is equally dangerous.

Most contemporary socialists—such as Kristen R. Ghodsee and Scott Sehon, in defense of their anti-anti-communism position—do not dismiss the historical crimes of communist states and recognize that “states governed under communist ideology did many bad things.” Instead, they seek to defend Marxist socialism against the charge that it is inherently authoritarian, meaning that all such experiments “will always and inevitably end with the gulag,” and thereby to save the possibility of political “experiments with Marxism” that take a non-authoritarian form. They continue to hold out hope that some version of Marxist politics can deliver on its emancipatory promises.

But are the horrible things that have happened in communist countries the natural conclusion of Marxist ideals? Understanding the connection between the philosophical and political facets of Marxism is the question for both those who would call themselves socialists and those who call themselves anticommunists. On one hand, socialists today attempt to sever the theory of communism from its historical practice to preserve the hopes they see within it; on the other hand, anticommunists understand this historical practice to be inherent to the theory and the hopes of communism to be false. The effort to save communism from its historical record tacitly recognizes that it is worthy of unqualified condemnation if this record (like in the case of Nazism) is the inevitable consequence of its principles—at least we agree on that much!

From the Communist Manifesto we learn that Marxism “may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” This principle is the theoretical and practical sine qua non, as well as that which guarantees that every attempt to erect a Marxist system, whether socialist or communist, democratic or totalitarian, will degenerate into an authoritarian nightmare.

This statement is clearly in need of demonstration.

Life, Liberty, and Property

What is private property? In the simplest terms, ownership is the natural right of an individual to use or dispose of something exterior to his or herself in whatever manner he or she wills. This right emerges from the natural right to life in the following manner: The right to life implies the right of self-preservation, that is, the liberty to act in whatever manner is necessary effectively to preserve one’s life. It is not simply mere life that is rightfully preserved; rather, human beings by nature seek healthy, flourishing life. Life implies the freedom to preserve life which implies the right to acquire the means of self-preservation. It is not accidental that John Locke speaks of “life, health, liberty, and possessions” in section 6 of his Second Treatise.

That the right to life is the ultimate foundation of private property is seen in the first and most fundamental act of self-preservation, which is at the same time the original act of appropriation: eating. When a human being eats, he takes something that is nourishing (and thus intrinsically valuable) to all other human beings and, in the process of consuming it, destroys it and transforms it into something devoid of value.

In a pre-political environment prior to the enclosure of the commons, an individual was free to appropriate from nature what he or she needed to survive. In this condition, taking what another had harvested was a violation of the natural law provided there remained enough and as good for those who came after. Because the one who came after could do equally well through his or her own efforts, taking from another merely substituted the other’s labor for one’s own. This substitution makes a slave of the other. The qualification of the natural right to property (i.e., enough and as good) does not limit acquisition from nature—one is free to pick the last remaining apple from the tree to feed oneself. Moreover, that apple still belongs to the one who picked it. But for those who come later, it makes taking from another no longer naturally unjust. Thus, we see that the more fundamental natural right to life can justify violations of the natural right of private property in the pre-political environment. We also see that conditions of natural scarcity will inevitably bring the fundamental rights of individuals into conflict. Hence, as Hobbes observed, the life of man in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Within society, the right to eat a particular item comes from its proper acquisition (i.e., pursuant to the laws), which in most instances means the item was either grown by, purchased by, or gifted to the one who eats it. But this is merely positive or legal right. As in the state of nature, the more fundamental natural right out of which this legal right grows can still trump the legal right when they conflict. This is clearly seen in the cross-cultural tendency to forgive the one who steals out of genuine necessity. Even in society, it is not unjust to take from another when it is truly a matter of life and death. Not unjust, however, is not the same thing as just. And it is still illegal.

But is the private property of the state of nature the same as the private property found in society? Or, does the move from the state of nature to society beg an important question? Possibly. Marxists today distinguish between personal property (apples, jeans, and Kenny Loggins records) and private property (the means of production). While libertarians are famous for asserting that all taxation is theft, socialists similarly argue that all private property is theft and thus they object to enclosure itself as the original theft of what were once common and public resources (see Jacobin magazine’s ABCs of Socialism). For the sake of the argument, let us grant that what is really meant by private property is the means of production—whether land or machine—and that this can be distinguished from personal property. The question is: what justifies the enclosure of the commons? Initially, labor.

The same principle that transformed the apple into the personal property of the one who picked it likewise transforms the land enclosed and cultivated into the private property of the one who labored upon it. If someone invests his or her labor in improving and enclosing a plot of land, sows and cultivates the crop, can anyone else possess an equal let alone better claim to the results? But what about to the land itself? That the land is no longer in a natural state, that it has been transformed according to a plan effected by said individual speaks loudly in favor of its appropriation—who else could possess a better claim to its use in the next season, especially since the act of cultivation is an ongoing process?

The transformation of the land is at the same time its improvement: enclosed and cultivated land yields far more than it did prior to being so enclosed. Such land is intrinsically more valuable and the increase in value is directly attributable to the one who improved it. In its natural state, a plot of land can support one person or one family; improved by human labor directed by a plan, that same plot will support some multiple thereof.

This situation, however, only holds provided there remains wilderness to tame and enclose. Once the final acre of land is enclosed and the requirement of “enough and as good” cannot be satisfied, what happens then? This is a profoundly important question: What will happen when human beings are born into an enclosed world?

Enclosure and the Commons

Marx believed, correctly, that this is precisely the situation into which we are thrown, and that the enclosure of the world makes social revolution inevitable—the have-nots will have no choice but to band together to take from the haves. It’s a matter of survival. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

Believing that private property inevitably leads to conflict, Marxism seeks to improve the future by correcting this perceived mistake. That is, it jettisons the idea of enclosure and reaffirms the commons. Socialists fail to understand the causal relationship between the enclosure of the commons, the protection of private property, and the near miraculous increase in the fecundity of the environment that has raised the material standard of living for human beings so dramatically. So they seek to pull up stakes and tear down fences in the belief that the productivity found in a state of natural and voluntary social interaction can be equaled, if not surpassed, in the commons—provided we all work together according to the right plan.

And that right there is the problem: socialism requires unanimity. In other words, like the American Founding Fathers, socialists seek to solve the problem of “faction” (Federalist #10). In the first instance, socialism seeks to eliminate the “most common and durable source” of faction: the unequal distribution of property (Federalist #10). Moreover, as Joseph Schwartz and Jason Schulman argue in their essay “Toward Freedom: Democratic Socialist Theory and Practice,” socialism seeks to eliminate to the greatest extent possible those sources of faction that arise from the division of labor “by the rotation of menial tasks, frequent sabbaticals, job retraining, shortening the workweek, and increasing the creativity of ‘leisure’ activity.” And yet, Schwartz and Schulman recognize that “there would be a need for expertise (say, for surgeons and engineers) and job specialization under socialism.” Setting aside the question of whether or not such specialized labor might result in differential rewards and economic inequality (thereby undermining the first effort), that some will hold particular jobs for extended periods of time (even for their entire working lives) will give rise to distinct interests.

Specialization itself raises the connected issue of the “diversity in the faculties of men” (Federalist #10). The fact of human diversity in terms of capabilities, inclinations, opinions, desires, and passions guarantees a diversity of interests in every society, provided this diversity is allowed to express itself. Insofar as the success of collectivist economic arrangements depends upon a uniformity of opinions, passions, and interests with respect to the common economic goal of the system, any member who dissents is a threat to the whole arrangement. Since support for the socialist system must be unanimous (i.e., total), the liberty to develop one’s own capabilities, to follow one’s own inclinations, to express one’s own opinions, and to satisfy one’s own desires must be constrained. Dissent, therefore, merits suspicion, which is why  Greengrocers will place a sign declaring “Workers of the World Unite” in the window as a demonstration of conformity.

In other words, because the socialist system cannot give “to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” (Federalist #10)—because human nature is an insuperable obstacle—socialism must destroy liberty and it must do so totally. This is why coercion and control are necessary components of socialism and why human beings cannot flourish under it (despite being able to do so on the micro-level). The good intentions of socialism run up against the hard limits of human nature and reality. In seeking to overcome these limits, socialism necessarily becomes a totalitarian tyranny. Furthermore, it is the worst kind of tyranny, that of the well-intentioned tyrant who tyrannizes you for your own good and with a clear conscience.

Enclosure and Liberty

Returning to the profoundly important question above: What will happen when human beings are born into an enclosed world? What is the alternative to Marxism?

The short answer is: the road actually taken.

Rather than late-born individuals resorting to violence to provide for themselves, the enclosure of the commons, the development of agriculture, and the subsequent rise of industry opened a cornucopia of opportunity. What we saw was a revolution, just not the bloody variety.

The agricultural revolution depends upon a whole host of supporting innovations, for example, hand tools, horseshoes, and plows, and eventually tractors, threshers, and combines. These developments serve as the basis for industry and result in the rise of cities and industrialization. Moreover, just as in the case of agriculture, tool-making, which begins as an arduous and complicated task completed by hand, is improved by the application of technology. We found better ways to make better tools. Industrialization, which is arming human labor with technology (and includes not only machinery but principles of organization, such as the assembly line), leads to ever greater increases in labor productivity. This is clearly seen, for example, in the decline in agricultural employment: close to 50 percent of people worked in agriculture in 1870, but less than two percent did so by 2008. It is also partially responsible for the decline in manufacturing employment: in 1910, this accounted for about 32.4 percent of jobs, whereas in 2015 it accounted for only 8.7 percent.

Under conditions of freedom, the economy develops and gives rise to new kinds of economic activity and opportunities. At first, agriculture dominated. But gains in productivity freed up human labor for other pursuits. Then industry arose, leading to even more gains in agricultural productivity and accelerating the shift in where people were employed. This revolution in both agriculture and manufacturing led to higher levels of material prosperity. We also became more and more productive as we got better and better at making things. There was more of everything—and it was better! The service sector exploded onto the scene, as someone had to sell all this stuff that was being made by fewer and fewer people. The story culminates (at least for now) in the rise of the knowledge economy and the knowledge worker who finds better ways of doing everything. Each of these economic revolutions was layered upon the ones preceding it, and opened new and diverse opportunities that enabled the diversity in the faculties of human beings to better express itself. It is as if no matter what your talent happens to be, today there is a way to monetize it. None of this was planned. Nor could it have been. And the process continues with no end in sight.

Rather than leading to conflict, the enclosure of the commons, the rise of industry, and the subsequent evolution of the economy led to competition and cooperation—or, another way of saying this, to cooperation in competition. In a system of liberty, human beings are not isolated, atomized individuals. They exist within a network of networks; they are family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, competitors, and citizens. The life of each is individual, familial, social, economic, and political all at the same time. The rich tapestry of existence is woven from these interrelations. While we are thrown into particular circumstances and confront them together, we do so on our own terms. The relations into which we are born need not remain those of our maturity. Born into a particular family in a particular community, we are free to leave these behind, joining together with others (provided they will accept us). Neither the faith of our fathers nor the business of our mothers, must be our own. The important point is that within a system of liberty where association is voluntary, human beings are free to cultivate their nature in ways in which they cannot under any other system.

The Results Are In

In conclusion, socialists claim that overcoming the bourgeois system would usher in a new way of life wherein the free development of each was a condition for the free development of all—Overthrow capitalism => ? => Utopia. Life in this classless society, we are reassured, would be marked by liberty, equality, and solidarity. The appeal of these universally recognized ends not only captured the imagination of those who believe there must be a final political solution to all human ills, it also justified whatever actions were deemed necessary for bringing this situation about. And yet, in each and every instance over the past century, politically empowered socialism has produced a system of servitude, inequality, and suspicion, where the life of a dissenter is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The socialist experiment has been run and the results are in: it is a failure—Revolution => Dictatorship => Horror. In fact, we need only compare the lives of those who lived in West Germany to those who lived in the East, or those who live in South Korea to those who live in the North, which is a Kingdom of Darkness.

Growing up in an era of unprecedented freedom and prosperity—and living lives that are only possible under such conditions—many Americans of all political stripes simply take for granted the political and economic system bequeathed to them by the dedicated work of their ancestors. Most simply do not understand that prosperity depends upon freedom, that freedom is like water, utterly necessary to flourishing of any and every kind. To push this analogy a bit further, if freedom is like water, then we are like fish swimming within it—and like fish, we pay no mind to the water despite its being necessary to our very existence.

What we do notice, however, is all the dirt that muddies the water. Freedom is messy; it’s filled with prudence and foppery alike; when people have the freedom to choose, they do not always make what others would consider to be the ‘right’ choice. Oblivious to the importance of freedom, many of us are open to the proposals of those who claim it is easy to get rid of the mud by further empowering the state as a means of empowering the individual. Considering only the end, we fail to recognize that the proposed means amount to draining the lake. When one does not recognize the importance of the water, it is all the more difficult to be convinced of the necessity of cleaning rather than discarding it. Anti-communism is the refusal to throw out the water. The next step is to figure out how to clean it.

 

Dr. Murray Bessette is the director of academic programs at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, where he leads its educational and scholarly activities. Before joining the Foundation, Bessette was an associate professor of government at Morehead State University, specializing in political philosophy, national security, intelligence studies, and counter-terrorism. He is the editor of two books and author of numerous articles and book chapters. You can follow him on Twitter @MSYBessette

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118 Comments

  1. The fundamental problem with state socialism is that it essentially says “We are going to free ourselves from the ruling class by giving more power to the ruling class”.

    Leftists have often said that state socialism is great, its just that nobody has ever done it properly, it always gets corrupted or derailed. I remember in about 1992 sitting down with a friend to what we both expected to be a long and entertaining conversation about the merits or otherwise of socialism, only for it to end after about 2 minutes when we both agreed that if a certain political system always gets corrupted or co-opted then this is a feature, not a bug.

    The jury is in, the best system is something based around a market economy, with a fairly strong state to enforce fair play.

    What we haven’t worked out is a way to make sure that people get rich by working, rather than by owning.

    • MichaelJ says

      “What we haven’t worked out is a way to make sure that people get rich by working, rather than by owning.”

      No we haven’t, and I suspect a solution to this problem will remain elusive. Ensuring that people get rich only through their own effort would, I believe, “run up against the hard limits of human nature” as the author put it in regard to socialism.

      The difficulty is inheritance: If people are not to get rich – to varying degrees – merely “by owning” inherited wealth, all estates would have to be forfeit to the state. However, confiscating estates would conflict with human nature, because a corollary of the instinct for procreation is an instinct to establish a legacy for one’s progeny. For that reason I don’t believe that a secular democratic society with a market economy will ever vote en masse for the abolition of inheritance.

      • You may be interested in the works of Henry George and the single tax movement. George states that by taxing land alone, we can avoid denying inheritance whilst at the same time ensuring it is not unproductively parked in land ownership and collecting rents from those who actually work to generate wealth.

        • MichaelJ says

          Thank you – I shall check out his work with interest. I find the idea appealing because one valid point I think the Marxists have is that taking possession of land deprives the commons of a scarce resource. However, rather than tyrannically reinstating land itself to the commons as prescribed by Marxism, land tax effectively levies a rent to the commons for the use of the land. As elegant as I think the land-tax-only idea is though, I don’t think it would meet TJR’s objective of “[making] sure that people get rich by working, rather than by owning”.

      • E. Olson says

        In the ideal world, the state would collect minimal taxes on income and savings, and instead collect the bulk of their revenues from estate taxes. Why not allow productive and innovative people to enjoy the full bounty of their efforts – to consume or invest or give away as they see fit while they are living, and let the state get its share after they are dead and beyond caring. The answer of course is that taxes tend to be collected on the things that are the most difficult to stop (i.e. addictions and pleasurable/necessary things), easiest to track, and most difficult to hide. Revenue models built on estate taxes fail on all levels, as estates would no doubt be smaller as more people would spend and give away their wealth rather than invest so that they might leave a larger estate to the state, and certainly it is much more difficult to track and easier to hide taxable estate wealth for the tax collector than income from labor and investment as it is earned.

        On the other hand, inheritance is not necessarily bad as family wealth tends to dissipate when the wealth is based on luck rather than merit. Thus smart hard working people who build a fortune that they pass on to their smart hard working kids, who further build wealth to pass on to their smart hard working children, etc. generate lots of jobs and income for the economy and tax revenue for the state (i.e. the Trump family model), while wealth built on luck follows the old shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in 3 generations model of wealth dissipation that sends the luck based wealth to more merit based applications for the good of society (i.e. the lottery winner model).

      • MichaelJ – You can have a large inheritance tax without abolishing inheritance. After all, an inheritance is simply a large windfall income, and doesn’t even have to stay within a family. The problem with current law is shown in the Trump inheritance (and mirrors most rich families) in which those with money and power can play the complex tax systems to their advantage, suggesting a simple (and to me fairer) system would much improve matters while reducing political corruption (when rich can pay for laws with enough wiggle room that they benefit a lot while most others may only benefit a little).

    • Peter from Oz says

      “What we haven’t worked out is a way to make sure that people get rich by working, rather than by owning.”
      With respect, I can’t agree with this. Most of my clients are high wealth individuals. They all achieved the bulk of their wealth by working much harder than most people do. Those who inherited substantial wealth all think they are honour-bound to increase that wealth rather than just sit back and live off their inheirtance.
      Of course, the truth is that most people in first world countries are rich, in that they have enough to eat, lots of entertainment and gadgets, good health and long life.

  2. Brian says

    Thank you for saying in so many words, what I have been saying very simply for years – the problem with socialism is that one cannot “opt out”.
    Even if currency and land ownership were abolished, people allowed to freely associate can always trade goods and services amongst themselves. Those that do this outside of the framework of the state are almost guaranteed to out-compete the State, which will entice other go-getters to conduct their activities outside of the State system. And boom, you have a free market.

    The only way to stop this natural process is to end freedom of association, which is really the essence of freedom itself. That’s why it’s enshrined in our First Amendment in our Constitution here in the US.

    At least under capitalism, one can opt out. It usually doesn’t go well, but nobody is going to out you in jail for simply being jobless or homeless.

    • ga gamba says

      At least under capitalism, one can opt out. It usually doesn’t go well, but nobody is going to out you in jail for simply being jobless or homeless.

      Yet, it needn’t be so dire. There are communes and co-ops operating internally along socialist principles, after all. Those who prefer to live a “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” life may do so. There are a few in Louisa County, Virginia because, wouldn’t you know it, lax zoning laws.

      No, I think many find socialism appealing not for the equality per se, or even the fraternity of doing things together, but rather they’re drawn to it because of resentment of others. I’ve never met people so fixated with what others have as socialist wannabes. It’s a serious personalty defect.

      • dirk says

        Without having read your link ga, the kibbutsim in early Israel of course is a good example of a rather succesful socialist system (and not only in agriculture, also in industrial enterprises) where even children were not the exclusive property of their progenitors. Nevertheless, after some decades, it seems the animosities grew (because of the general economic growth and welfare elsewhere??) and the social system expired.

        • dirk says

          I forgot, other socialist systems, the monasteries, the monks that worked and prayed and developed lands and estates (under the vow of chastity, poverty and obedience) for many centuries in what’s now Europe (but at the time monarchies), the source of all literacy, libraries, knowledge, science, consciousness, innovation and development and what not else that made the West so strong, universal, rich, and superior to anything else on this world). I just thought about this after my holiday here in Schiermonnikoog, Monks Island, made and won on the sea, and developed by early monks, centuries ago, but nevertheless!

          • dirk – Monks voluntarily do this social life, and they can today under capitalist systems, likely allowing them more freedom because they can easily trade for items they cannot make. But while monks did some good in advancing knowledge and science, they clearly failed on innovation and development as it was only after liberty+capitalism that progress bloomed rapidly compared to the very slow to no growth previously.

        • dirk says

          @David: it was not my intention to come up with alternative communities compared to ours with their dynamic economic growth, but more as examples of egalitarian communities , as asked for by Ga. He thought that only negative feelings could be at stake there. Resentment and such ones. The ones I came with prove not so. As I said, for our modern, material way of life, the one we live with and are used to right now (I realise am also part of),they have little relevance. But I am sure, where anthropologists were seeking, many more such communities exist(ed).

          • ga gamba says

            Yet the people living in communes, monasteries, and kibbutzes all live according their principles, which is my point. They walked the talk. I don’t think I said these particular people are motivated by envy and resentment; I’m sure I wrote many others are, though. Last I checked many is not all, though the way words are changing meanings so rapidly nowadays one can’t be so sure about this. Just to be clear, I’m going with the traditional meaning of many.

            What of the others who enjoy the many spoils of capitalism whilst poo-pooing it? Our socialist friends such three-house Bernie and Hollywood Jim Carrey, what lives are they living? In a land of some homelessness Bernie has three. In a country of the average income of $44,564 per year for a 40-hour workweek Bernie earns $174,000 per annum, about four times more than average. Further, he has excellent perks and a fabulous pension. Has Bernie sponsored legislation to cut legislators salaries to align with the masses? Or the “One House Is Enough” bill? Comrade Carrey has earned $20,000,000 and more for many of his films. Here’s Jim’s house; he lives next door to Malibu Barbie.

            If someone approached you and declared we all must to be Scientologists or vegans and then also mentioned s/he is neither a Scientologist nor a vegan, you might wonder how this person arrived at the idea that Scientology or veganism is “the solution”. “I read about it,” “My sister is a Thetan VI is she’s happy,” or “Veganism is practiced by many Indians and they seem to be doing well,” are possible answers. Still, I doubt one would upend the social order based on that. You’d give it a try on a much smaller scale first, yeah? Strangely no one asks Bernie or Ms Ocasio how they reached the conclusion we’d be better off under socialism without ever experiencing it themselves. Especially in the face of overwhelming evidence that socialism is social poison, you think someone might challenge them to put up or shut up.

            Yes, I suppose there are some who whose motivation for socialism is not based on envy and resentment. I forget to account for the stupid and the hypocrites.

            Thanks for checking me on that.

      • E. Olson says

        And the most resentful tend to be in academia or politics – as in I’ve got a Ph.D./Ivy League Law Degree and am just scraping by on my professorial/public service salary of $150,000+ per year, while those damn college drop-outs Bill Gates/Mark Zuckerberg are frickin billionaires – we need to do something about this injustice!!!

        • Heike says

          “Why We Left ‘The Farm'” – Whole Earth Review, Winter 1985

          https://pastebin.com/F0WGGewg

          A fascinating look at real-world socialism. These people got together, lived together, went years at a time without handling money, and as you read through you understand what happened to them in the end. These people didn’t just talk the talk, they put their money where their mouth was. They did things like transfer their inheritances to the collective. The journey they went through was amazing.

          • ga gamba says

            Thanks for posting that link. It is a must read.

            Here are a few of the gems.

            “In the later years, there was more of a double standard going on, where some people took advantage of their opportunities. It was a matter of survival to take advantage of whatever connections came your way. . . . The peasants of Guatemala who we were trying to help would say they had vegetables all the time. They’d come to the Farm [the commune] and they’d decide they had it better down there. . . . We had to volunteer to have less in order to have a cooperative thing happen. In a situation like Nicaragua it might work out fine to do a cooperative thing because everybody would feel like they were all gonna raise their level by bring cooperative. But we lowered our level by being cooperative, we lowered our standard of living, and it’s hard when you start raising kids to face the fact that you’ve voluntarily lowered your standard of living. . . . Collectives don’t work, basically, for all the classic reasons. One of the main reasons the Farm was collective was that Mao was so popular in the counterculture at the time. I don’t believe that a real pure collective could work unless you were some tribe in which everybody had been related for 2,000 years. That was one of our mistakes. We called ourselves a tribe, but we weren’t. We were all totally unrelated people trying to be a tribe, but we weren’t. . . . There were always only 40 or so guys who were supporting the Farm in terms of cash, but we were still getting more single mothers, still more psychotics; and those same people, who once were supporting maybe 600 people, five years later were supporting 1,500 people. . . . Believing your kid is better than anybody else’s is one of the roots of racism. You couldn’t think more about your kids than you did about all the kids in the Third World. . . . If somebody asked me what I learned from the Farm experience, I would say I learned to kiss ass. To keep my position in Stephen’s inner circle I had to learn what to say, but more importantly what not to say. ”

            I’m sure it’ll work in a nation of 320+ million ‘cuz Crazy Eyes Ocasio is so earnest about it. She’ll get it right. Eureka! Socialism done correctly. What could go wrong?

  3. Farris says

    Another problem socialism does not appear to recognize is as follows:
    If all citizens had the same income or equal resources (think 40 acres and a mule), the undeniable fact remains not all citizens will manage their income or resources equally well. Eventually wealth, income or resource disparity will result. The only true way to achieve equality is to make everyone equally miserable.
    A Russian folktale (paraphrased):
    Once upon a time there were 2 impoverished families. One family lived hand to mouth and worked infrequently. The other family was more diligent and conserved and saved. The diligent family eventually saved enough to buy a cow. With the purchase of the cow the diligent family was able to produce and sell milk, cream and butter. The farm of the diligent family prospered.
    One day the father of the family who remained impoverished went hunting to provide food for his family. The father came across a bear and raised his rifle to shoot. The bear upon seeing the man stood on his hind legs and spoke. “I am a magic bear. If you spare my life, I will grant you 1 wish!” The man lowered his rifle and looked over toward his impoverished farm. He saw his dirty wife and starving children. Next he looked towards his diligent neighbor’s farm and saw its cow and clean well fed occupants. Then the impoverished man looked at the bear and said, “kill his cow!”

      • dirk says

        Are you serious david? To believe in that benefiting both? Have you never read how it goes in such cases in most parts of the world (and even in the US, though maybe not any more the last 50 yrs).

  4. Increasingly, when I’m reading pieces about socialism in the conservative or centrist press, I’m also reading cautionary tales and advice about the horrors of communism or Marxism-Leninism in the same piece.

    Yes, I get that there’s a close enough connection between these terms and what they describe — whether you’re using their popular or generic or even social science-approved meanings –- and because I think scaring people about Soviet-style communism is about as useful a public service as anyone can perform, I don’t reflexively flinch like I probably should when the easy and almost automatic association is made.

    It occurs to me that the left-leaning press does similar stuff a lot of the time, like starting a critical piece about Trump and then having it morph into a stern warning about the dangers of fascism. The intent in these pieces, of course, is to smear Trump. You can, I suppose, make a case that Trump’s policies and style occasionally have fascist-like qualities or echoes of fascism, but Trump isn’t a fascist. If you think he is, you need to look up the standard poli sci definition of the term (or at least the one I recall from many years ago when I was in college).

    By the same token, most of the people who call themselves socialists -– well, certainly the vast majority of those who self-identify as “socialists” in the US -– aren’t communists/Marxists. Not by any stretch of the imagination. So, when you write about Bernie Sanders, for example, it’s not particularly useful to slip in references here and there to the gulags. And when you publish an article that begins by referencing the surge of interest in socialism in the US, the banner photo probably shouldn’t contain Lenin’s image. Any more than a photo of Mussolini should adorn a piece about Trump.

    • Farris says

      @Radical Centrism

      I had the same thought about so freely equating communism with socialism. Not all socialist manifestations are 1 party states or necessarily dictatorial. I think the author’s primary point was that restricting private ownership of means of production limits the freedoms responsible for the economic prosperity the West has been able to enjoy. Socialism is over broad, applying to Sweden as well as N. Korea. The author did not wish to use communism because regimes like Russia, China and N. Korea refer to themselves as socialist. I think better terms may have been collectivist or collectivism.

      • Denis Purdy says

        Most swedes are very clear that their country is not socialist, it is capitalist albeit with a very strong social support network.

      • ga gamba says

        Neither Sweden nor any other Scandinavian country is socialist.

        I suspect many are attracted to socialism because they’re ill-informed and are too lazy to check it out. Maybe they don’t know what socialism is at all. Perhaps they actually want Swedish capitalism. This doesn’t well for the socialism they want to build. Get the blueprint, for chrissakes. Then study it to understand.

        Really all socialist larpers, go live in socialist communes for a while to check it out. It least it’ll give you a taste.

        • E. Olson says

          Scandinavian “socialism” only works to the degree it does because of the relatively small and homogeneous Scandinavian ethnic populations featuring relatively high median IQ and a culture oriented around the Protestant work ethic, and honest human interactions. For hundreds of generations, if you didn’t work hard and cooperate during the short summer seasons of Northern Europe, you were likely to die during the long cold winters, and hence the lazy, stupid, uncooperative, and dishonest tended to die out over time. The prosperity and high social capital generated by this challenging environment, eventually created popular support for a relatively strong safety net and generous redistribution policies to be enacted to “level out ” society outcomes, because people trusted that their neighbors wouldn’t take unfair advantage of it. The small size and isolation of the countries, also tended to keep even the most successful from accumulating huge fortunes, and gave them incentive to hide it if they did by not displaying ostentatious displays of wealth, which reduced resentments among the bottom half, and the motivation to lobby against wealth redistribution among the top half.

          These factors also mean that Scandinavian “socialism” can’t work in larger multi-tribal societies where some tribes become known as predominately “makers” and other tribes become known as predominately “takers”. Makers aren’t nearly as generous and trusting of the numerous takers from another tribe as they are with the few takers from their own tribe. The huge fortunes that can accumulate to large market “makers” also means they are less likely to support generous redistribution and safety net public policies, particularly when the beneficiary “takers” are not seen as trustworthy and deserving. Even in Scandinavia there have been problems that have forced cut-backs in the welfare state as multiple-generational exposure to government welfare has eroded the work ethic and honesty of the Scandinavian populations, and high tax rates have led to an exodus of many of the most prosperous “makers”. Immigration from “taker” cultures has also put further pressure on government budgets, as welfare states can only be “successful” when most people work (and pay taxes) and relatively few people get benefits, which is increasingly not the case. Furthermore, police force, prison, and social worker budgets have also had to be increased due to the crime and bad social habits brought by the immigrants.

          American “socialists” might also not be so enamored with Scandinavian socialism if they actually had to live there. As noted above, diversity is definitely not a strength with Scandinavian socialism, so you might be very disappointed by the large proportion of white people you see. Hopefully you won’t get sick either, because you will definitely be waiting a long time to get medical help unless you are literally bleeding to death. First, you will wait a few days to a couple of weeks to see a GP, who probably won’t know anything about your illness and will therefore give you a referral to a specialist, who will offer you an appointment in only a few weeks or few months, and heaven forbid you need an MRI or new miracle drug, because waiting for an MRI will add further weeks/months to your treatment and the new miracle drug will only be available when it becomes acceptably cheap to the state medical authorities. The great health outcomes from Scandinavian medicine are mainly due to healthy Scandinavian genes and historically good health habits – although junk food and lack of exercise are having an impact. How about some shopping, because you like Scandinavian Volvo, IKEA, Lego, Bang and Olufsen, etc.? Unfortunately you will likely be very disappointed with the prices, because most everything you buy will have a 25% VAT (sales tax) added to it, plus various “sin” taxes on gasoline, cars, cigarettes, alcohol which can double or more the price you pay for the same item in the USA – this might be your first hint that all the “free” Scandinavian health care, education, welfare actually isn’t free. And if you are a professor, medical doctor, lawyer, consultant or some other “highly paid” professional, you probably won’t like your very pedestrian Scandinavian salary, particularly when you lose 50% of it to taxes. You will likely be surprised at the relatively small houses and apartments, and sparsely equipped small cars that many “upper-class” Scandinavians have, but with all the taxes it is impossibly expensive to live like an “upper-class” American. You’ll also be cooking at home a lot more, because high “minimum” wages and taxes tend to make restaurant meals very expensive for the middle-class to enjoy on a frequent basis – did you know that rich Norway is the largest per capita consumer of frozen pizza in the world?

          Never-the-less, you still still want the low poverty rates, low crime, and clean air of Scandinavian “socialism”. If so, you might consider moving to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas, or Washington state where the large populations of Scandinavian-Americans have similarly low poverty rates, similarly low crime rates, clean air, but without the “socialism” part they also have much higher material standards of living.

          • Simon Johnson says

            Your lost lost all credibility with “protestant work ethic”

            It then descended into pure comic invention regarding the health system and superior genes.

            Unadulterated nonsense.

          • E. Olson says

            Simon Johnson – I’ve lived in Scandinavia and Scandinavian parts of the US for over 20 years each, what “superior” experience and knowledge to you bring to the table? The Protestant work ethic is a controversial concept, but most criticisms come from atheists and/or people not from Northern Europe who hate to see a “religious” concept being given credit for any superior economic/social results. The biggest proof of its existence is the fact that the welfare state has eroded it. As for medicine, my wife waited over 6 months to see a arthritis specialist in Norway, but got into the Mayo Clinic after a 3 day wait, where she was prescribed a new drug that was unavailable in Norway – anecdotal I know, but do a little search and you will find it is not unusual. As for genes, the Scandinavian bloodlines tend to be among the longest-lived where-ever they are around the world, and their IQ results are also near the top globally, which is also supported by the relatively large contributions to art/music/design, industry, and technology that have originated from small population Scandinavia. Relative good health and high IQ are also key reasons the welfare system worked pretty well, as lots of poor health and low IQ related deviances create high societal costs that cause such systems to break down quickly. The fact that Scandinavian immigrants to the US have done very well economically and socially in a far less “socialist” US environment would indicate it is the Scandinavian genes and culture that are most responsible rather than “socialism”.

          • dirk says

            But, Olson, why not admit here that you yourself are from Scandinavian stock? Your name says enough, undeniable. The genes and that IQ are of less importance , of course, it is mostly the rather isolated position and lack of colonial history (and crimes) in the EU that makes the difference, the land of Andersen and Sigrid Undset, and of US economist Veblen, and of the greatest social equality (maids at the same table as the masters, already in the 19th century, just imagine!!) in history, unbelievable, but true! Absolutely fabulous!

          • Just Me says

            I have no Scandinavian ancestry whatsoever, but recently visited Scandinavia as a tourist, and the first thing that struck me as someone living in an ethnically diverse city with a high proportion of obese people, was how fit and healthy (and ethnically homogenous) the Scandinavians looked. There appeared to be no overweight people in Denmark, Norway, or Sweden, although there were some in Finland.

          • E. Olson says

            Dirk – you are absolutely correct that Scandinavian isolation and small size are very important , but they are also key reasons for the IQ and culture being what it is today. I don’t speak of high IQ or “productive” cultures as products of superior planning or educational systems or as anything that a particular person or people blessed with them has done to deserve them. Rather the best evidence is that they are products of certain conditions related to weather, resources, and relative isolation that have led to the selection of certain characteristics best adopted to survive and thrive in the local conditions over many generations. While Scandinavian genes and culture may help explain the relative “success” of the local brand of “socialism” idolized by the Bernie Sanders crowd, it also means that such “success” is much more unlikely in other places with differing characteristics. This is no different than the great cuisine that is well known part of the Italian culture, made possible by the much more favorable weather that allow great varieties of fresh produce to be available most of the year, which contrasts very strongly with the poor food culture of Scandinavia. Compared to Italy and Italian food, you don’t find many Swedish or Norwegian cuisine restaurants around the world and virtually nobody visits Scandinavia for the food. That being said, Just Me’s comment about the lack of Scandinavian obesity is sadly changing fast – latest national BMI indexes place Norway and the USA median BMI just about on top of each other, with Sweden and Denmark only very slightly lower.

          • ga gamba says

            I think the deeply ingrained cultural roots shared by almost everyone play a part. My grandfather is Norwegian and he often mentioned the law of Jante, which is a humility, perhaps an excessive humility, and serves to orient people toward egalitarianism. There’s also the idea of lagom, which is to be satisfied with a sufficient amount and not expect more or feel deprived. He’d often say “enough is a feast” which didn’t mean to gorge oneself.

            This is not to say other cultures don’t have similar ideas, for example the tall poppy syndrome in the UK.

    • Once you go down the path that the state should take from others to give to others, you either become fascist or communist or you return to liberty+capitalism. It becomes easier with each step, with each precedent, just as some claim social security is socialism without pointing out that workers (not capitalists) spend 15% of their income their entire lives to get a small stipend when they are old.

  5. Michael says

    What both Murray Bessette and the Marxists don’t understand is that the increase in productivity of land once it becomes enclosed occurs by the application of energy controlled by human intelligence. When that fundamental facilitating resource – energy – becomes limiting, the productivity of enclosed land will stall and decline. All but the biophysical economists do not believe energy will becoming limiting in future, but this is because they fundamentally fail to appreciate that all resources, even energy itself, become available only though application of energy. In the past, we have overcome limitations in physical resource availability (scarcity) by application of additional energy to access the resource from farther away or from more difficult sources or to develop substitutes. But when energy itself becomes limiting, the strategy of application of additional energy cannot be applied. You cannot solve an energy procurement crisis by application of additional energy that you do not have! Looking at the scale and energy profitability of our current (and possible alternative) energy sources and considering the future energy resources available to us, we can see quite clearly that the world’s human economy is almost certainly in a state of irreversible net energy decline. This explains the world’s current economic malaise and anticipates that it will become a lot worse in decades to come. “The road actually taken” has been a path up a rising slope of energy availability over the last two centuries. Now the road is turning downhill and the enormous mass of humanity that has grown up on this finite planet will learn about the limits to growth (and “progress”) the hard way. Neither Marxism nor capitalism can solve this one….

  6. Bubblecar says

    The writer is correct to point out that progressive technology has created an economy in which the material standing of living of nearly everyone continually improves. What he fails to grasp is that if this process continues to be successful, its logical outcome will entail the demise of capitalism anyway.

    Future technology has the potential to create a world in which there are no “have-nots”, and the clunky physical property of the rich plummets in value as many “real goods” are eventually replaced by superior “virtual goods”, available to everyone at minimal cost.

    In this scenario, robots will take over most jobs in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services etc, and for humans, increasingly sophisticated computer/brain interfaces will open up vast virtual worlds of real sensation – full 3D vision and motion, taste, touch, smell, of a vividness and variety that will make the physical property of today’s rich seem laughable in comparison.

    Such a world will still require some supervisory input from humans, if only to help ensure that the robot workforce is functioning as efficiently as required. But such work will be voluntary and inspired by the co-operative desire to maintain the much-appreciated benefits of this economy and culture, while continually progressing technology further.

    • @Bubblecar
      If that future world accures naturally by way of evolution in the course of events then I see no problem. It’s the Bolsheviks, the central planners that want to hasten this future utopia and want it now that are a threat to the lives of millions of humans. (See, for example, Latin America right now).

      • Bubblecar says

        What do you mean by “naturally”? If the future I’ve suggested occurs it will be by co-operative human agency, which will undoubtedly involve all kinds of creative individuals, organisations and regulatory bodies, including democratically elected governments.

        • By naturally, I mean from the bottom up. Unlike, say, in 1917 Russia when a group of intellectuals calling themselves the elite vanguard snuck in and slaughtered the Russian royal family and then proceeded to commit mass murder on the Russian people, hobbling them even to this very day. I mean Evolution over a long period of time not Revolution by an elite vanguard by way of a coup.

  7. Damian O'Connor says

    This is a good article and exposes the flaws in the philosophical basis of Marxism well. I wonder if there is a psychological basis too? I observe that the leaders of Marxist states all too often seem to be monsters and that they seem to produce other monsters too. I observe also that most socialists of my acquaintance are both relatively idle and relatively risk averse in their choice of profession.

    Dr. Damian P. O’Connor

    Author of ‘A Short Guide to the History of South Africa’ and other works.

  8. martti_s says

    It is possible that a properly programmed, freely learning AI could succeed in creating a socialist community that could actually work. Of course, it would need to know everything –something that none of the socialist experiments thus far ever accomplished. It would also need unlimited power over lesser beings, such as boards of executives, parliaments or United Nations. Socialist endeavors have been bound by money circles and interference from abroad thus far. We cannot blame them for not trying, though.

    Unless given exquisite orders, I am pretty sure that the AI would come to the conclusion that the key problem was the human nature.
    Then it would get rid of us all.

    None of the human socialists never managed to accomplish that, either.
    We have to admit that the piles of corpses were quite impressive anyhow, considering the lack of means, inherent to any socialist system, they had to deal with.

  9. Olbrog says

    On top of this, there are more technical reasons why communism can never work. Prices in a free market system coordinate everything. They are an extraordinary source of information about what and how much to make. This is very important given the depth and complexity of supply chains, something someone who has never worked in industry will most likely not understand.

    When a company is profitable, it’s a signal from the market saying ‘we’ve figured out that this is an arrangement of resources and inputs that efficiently delivers a product that consumers value’. (And the converse is a signal to give up and try something different). Without these signals, we are blind, and prosperity plummets. Profit is a Darwinian mechanism where only good investment survives.

    • In the long term yes, but fascism and socialism can create immediate profits for a few.
      The USA fails this metric with nutty ideas like “too big to fail,” and of course tariffs and incentives (unequal punishments and rewards to the few over the common good).

  10. dirk says

    The result of enclosures and private land property was not only the beginning of a cornucopeia, but also a box of Pandora. Among others meaning the end of all the cultures of the indigenous, original Americans. Locke reasoned that expropriation of the commons was a legal act, and even force by institute or government to install it would be allowed . Chief Seattle protested, but in vain, of course. I can’t think that our capitalist free market system will survive the century, it’s too ridiculous what’s happening all around now, the planet doesn’t allow with another so many billion Indians and Chinese following the stream. But, after all, for the time being, we can’t do without, because there is no proper alternative, yet!

    • And your evidence is what? That the world is less violent, richer, more educated, lives longer/healthier/lower child mortality, has more choices/options, has more say in government, trades globally, all in 300 years versus all the “progress” of the prior 12,000 civilized years?
      Gloom and doom has been predicted since the earliest writings.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Enclosure (primarily for wool production) also drove millions off the land in other nations, many of whom ended up in America where they were allowed to own land. Very unfortunate for the Indians, but a great many more people than the original populations benefited from it.

      The quickest road to mass starvation and poverty is to adopt a communalist governing system. Thanks to trade and the resultant transport systems built to aid trade there hasn’t been an significant famine or even a dearth in First World nations for centuries (except after mass warfare), whereas it is a common occurrence in communist and socialist nations (and still is, witness North Korea and Venezuela). Capitalism is more or less like birds flocking or fish schooling; from the outside their fluid movement makes it appear as if a central agency is in charge when it is in fact the decisions of individuals based on external or internal stimuli that make it go. Communism attempts to regiment the random movement of the flock in a desired direction, but such direction requires force to ensure cooperation, which requires policing, which results in resistance by individuals or groups desiring to go in a different direction, which leads to increased poilcing, and so on, inevitably resulting in complete collapse.

      To own things is built into our human nature, it is what separated us from the apes and early hominids, the desire to keep the tools we made for future extraction of food and other necessities. Profit is a natural result of having possessions, if it is not in fact older than the desire to possess.

      • dirk says

        All more or less what pope Leo XIII proclaimed in his famous Rerum Novarum, Modern Times, the answer of the church on the growth of socialism and communism (that, itself, grew out from the christian drive for equality, unselfishness and dedain of material wealth). The pope had to come up with something, to stay trustworthy, and thought it best to hide behind human nature itself, moderate greed and some possessions are not un-christian after all!

  11. Denis Leonard says

    Check out the earlier article (Oct. 6, 2018) about the bright new face of the Democratic Party, Andrew Yang, if you want to bring some relevance to this piece. It’s not about if the young snot has any chance of getting elected, he’s a trial ballon. Communism is always trying to get you to hand over control of your lives so they can save you from the boogey man. In Yang’s case it’s technology displacing people. If you’re young, you might by this load of bull because you haven’t seen much of life. If you’re old like me, you’ve seen this same argument played out many times over the last century. You see, the changing world is not new, neither is man’s resilience, nor the need for some to lust for power.

    Now they are trying to couch the same old arguments in high tech/economic garb, but the sales pitch is the same: fear. And, of course, the progressive/neo-marxists are the only one’s with the solution. But the boogey man isn’t technology, it’s them.

    • All predictions of the future fail because they can only extrapolate what they have and know right now. The world has been coming to an end for as long as human records can demonstrate that such an idea occurred.

  12. Etaoin Shrdlu says

    That’s it for me. Any publication that will include an article as intellectually dishonest as this one doesn’t deserve to be read. Those of us *real* anti-communists who grew up when communism was a *real* threat know that conflating communism with socialism and even with merely liberal measures completely distorts and misrepresents the options available to any society. Quillette shows its true colors as another rag the real purpose of which is to justify and reinforce the existing power imbalance between the wealthiest and the not-so-wealthy. I’ve never been a communist nor supported communism in my long life. The public discussion is not improved by the kind of intellectual shell game played by Mr. Bissette. Particularly when neither Mr. Bissette nor his editors on Quillette are willing to acknowledge what they’re really trying to do. Do not believe what is being said in this article. Think for yourself.

    • Simon Johnson says

      Great post, Etaoin.

      Nothing like false dichotomies and reds under the bed paranoia to push a neoliberal economic agenda forward.

      The recent short term reaction against a decades long tide of market fundamentalism is a completely unsurprising and unconcering. Irritation with entrenched monopoly power, corporate capture of our political system and rising inequality (ignoring the comical attempts of this publication to prove otherwise) are completety rational.

      There is more than one alternative to unfettered, free market capitalism. I find it fascinating that Quillette and its zealots herald themselves as paragons of reason and objective analysis when I read such simplistic scare-mongering.

      • Bernard Hill says

        ….Mmmm please do keep trying Simon. I’m sure we’re all interested in seeing you actually set out some thoughts of your own.

    • @ Etaoin Shrdlu

      When you wrote “conflating communism with socialism and even with merely liberal measures completely distorts and misrepresents the options available to any society” I think you’re essentially making the same general point I was making above but more directly and succinctly. The views of most contemporary self-identifying socialists in the US (the majority of whom appear to be quite young and not particularly knowledgeable about politics or history) are closer to those of a moderate Republican during the Nixon administration than a member of the Soviet Politburo during Lenin’s time in power. Ask one of those “socialist” kids whether they want a multi-party system, privately-owned small businesses, and most of our current private property rights, and they’ll respond “of course.” A Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez administration wouldn’t attempt to take physical control over all the media, ban all political parties but their own, collectivize agriculture, or seize all of Jeff Bezos’ wealth, so creating some kind of equivalence between the dominant popular contemporary expression of “socialism” and Marxism/Leninism is just plain overwrought, just as when people do the same with Trump and fascism.

      All that being said, I won’t entirely disabuse myself of the notion that a form of democratic socialism that starts with a stated (or even a strongly felt) commitment to democracy can potentially morph or become a “gateway drug” to something worse, and perhaps for some of the same reasons expressed in the article, although I believe that this is far more likely to be the case in countries with weak democratic institutions and culture, and not as long a history of democracy as the US. The case of Venezuela is perhaps illustrative.

      • Agreed that probably most of the people in the west who regard themselves as socialists are not socialists in the sense used by this article. They just want more things to be socialised (e.g. healthcare in the US, trains in the UK) than is currently the case, and in particular they don’t want the “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor” that we often have in practice.

        IMHO the key question for any economic system is: How do we stop the ruling class stealing everything?

        Collectivism (possibly a better and clearer term) seems to be a very poor answer to that question, but market fundamentalism doesn’t look very attractive either.

        • E. Olson says

          TJR – in response to your question about “how do we stop the ruling class from stealing everything” is where socialists always get into trouble. If we define ruling classes as political and business leaders (i.e. the rich and powerful), the proper role of government is to set up rules that ensure free and fair competition in business, and efficient and corruption free government services. Unfortunately there is no money in such duties for the ruling elite. Business leaders by and large hate free and fair competition, because it means they are never able to extract monopoly rents (i.e. big profits) without attracting new competitors eager to get their share by making the market a better offer. Thus they lobby government for subsidies, tariffs, tax breaks, and regulations that make things more profitable for them and less profitable for competitors. An honest government should not grant such anti-competitive requests, because the more the government gets involved in such activity the more such requests they will receive as business leaders soon learn the fastest path to profits comes from wooing government officials rather than satisfying customers. Yet the money (campaign contributions, speech fees), post-government career prospects that such lobbying efforts provide to government leaders, and status derived from managing an ever larger government bureaucracy required to implement and manage such activities are very strong temptations for government leaders, and eventually most governments grow and become corrupt. Unfortunately, this growing corruption problem tends to leads to more government growth and less efficiency as agencies appear to watch for and stop corruption, and the more effective they are at stopping corruption, the more likely they will soon become corrupted by government and business leaders trying to keep the gravy train rolling. This leads to further reforms, and those reforms eventually lead to more growth and corruption (including nationalizing industries, seizing private property, suspending liberties, and outlawing opposition parties – all for the “public” good), because that is where the money and status come from in government. You can throw the bumbs out via elections (at least while there are opposition parties), but the other party eventually becomes tempted by the same “big government” incentives, while the permanent bureaucracy is never “voted” out and is always pro-big-government.

          The left’s solution to your market “unfairness” problem is always more government, even though unfairness problems are almost always caused by government corruption and malpractice. The only real solution is to keep shrinking the size and power of government back to the basics of defending property rights, constitutional rights, and borders, but the larger the government gets the more the swamp fights back.

          • Peter from Oz says

            @E. Olson
            Excellent comment.
            You are right in pointing out that government has corrupted business more than the other way around.
            The true problem here is envy. Envy, along with greed for the wealth of others, causes far more evil in the world than all the isms and phobias invented by the left.

      • @A New Radical Centrism:
        The new movement for socialism being pushed in America by the Ocasio Cortez/Democratic Socialist crowd is very obviously a push for the eventual abolition of private property and ownership in the US. It says it right there in the constitution section of their website. THEY REJECT AN ECONOMIC ORDER BASED ON PRIVATE PROFIT! That’s all you need to know. That one line spells out a very clear motive of the future they intend for the country. Just because they roll their eyes and say, “Of course we’re not going to take away business and private property” doesn’t mean that’s not clearly the intention they’re working towards. They state it very clearly on their website.
        Just because it would be hard as hell for them to make headway in our current system doesn’t make their movement any less dangerous for the future of America.

        Not to mention some really problematic statements on their website that reads more like a Gender Studies / Intersectionality syllabus than a political movement:
        Ex. “ We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”

        How very intersectionally correct of them. I wonder if they’d take the Progressive Stack into account in their economic central planning commission.

        From the Democratic Socialists of America’s website:
        Article II. Purpose

        “We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.”

        On their About Us page they state on of their goals is to

        “restructure gender and cultural relationships to be more equitable.” and to “get rid of hierarchical structures to make families more democratic”.
        Hmmm… Sounds like a hell of a social engineering project they have ahead of them. Also, it would be interesting to see how abolishing hierarchy in the family would turn out. If we think we’re having issues with children disrespecting parents and authority today…. just wait and see the results after the DSA conduct their social engineering project.

        • @ KDM

          Thanks for posting that info from the DSA site.

          The DSA has got some wiggle room and opportunity for deniability with phrases like “we reject an economic order based on private profit” (i.e., they can always say that this doesn’t necessarily mean that some “non-exploitative” private profit can’t exist, only that it can’t be the primary basis of the economic system) and “a social order based on popular control of resources and production” (i.e., they can always argue that they’re not saying ALL resources and production must be under popular control), but, you’re right, some of this language is unsettling.

          Creepiest of all of it, though, is the seemingly innocuous phrase “alienated labor” — that’s straight from Marx, and the only places I’ve ever seen it used anywhere in a political program are in the platforms of old school communist parties.

      • Farris says

        I too was attempting to make the point above there are many stripes of socialism. When one conflates China and N. Korea with freer multiparty socialist regimes, it provides socialists the luxury of maintaining totalitarian socialism is not their goal and to opt out of the debate of the merits of socialism.
        For instance, all stripes of socialism desire the power to allocate resources. However the debate between allowing markets or governments to allocate resources can not occur, if it begins with calling those in favor of government allocation the N. Koreans.

      • dirk says

        Venezuela is indeed very illustrative, and interesting because of the 2 earlier discussions here on Q. in september. Chavez didn’t call himself a socialist (not so important maybe) but in his new constitution, a war on the landlords was launched in the form of collectivization of lands. However, this was not carried out systematically, only haphazardly, and then mostly of enemies or foreigners (like the British). One of the most rampant policies were the price controls, not of stateowned businesses (that would be real communism) but of shopkeepers/owners (who, of course, stop selling at that price and start hoarding). The best way to kill all enterprise.

        I think New Radical C. is right, and what he says about US youngsters socialism, also can be said of many types of Latin socialism, half baked socialism I mean, though the direction here is different again. Mostly to do with changing estate property (but seldome for 100%, it stops at a certain acreage. dependent on the grade of the soil fertility and mechanisation potential). So, again here, no downright socialism/communism.

  13. Ch47God says

    As the dirty an-cap in the room I though the article was well done. Sad to see the number of statist socialist cucks rear there appropriating heads, “not equating” communism with socialism.

  14. dirk says

    But, Ch., isn’t it strange that the title is about anti-communism, but the narrative story consequently is (even the first word) about socialism??
    Two different things of course.I live (and all other European nations with me) in a democratic socialist nation, and feel very happy in it. The most succesful nations on this planet, fugitives from all over the world try to invade us, in the hope (mostly vain) to have the same privileges and rights as our civilians.

    • Murray B. says

      Not strange at all, given that the sine qua non of socialism and communism is the abolition of private property, meaning they are essentially the same and completely different from what exists in Europe today. Furthermore, all communists (e.g., Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc.) identify themselves as socialists who are building communism.

      • dirk says

        Abolition of private property was a sine qua non for the Essen sect (of the DeadSea rolls), who had to give away all their possessions before entering, and did not even own their own cloths in the community henceforth. This never was the case in socialism, and not even in communism under the Sovjets, where kolchoz workers were allowed to have a small piece of land with a cow or some poultry, not much more than they used to own when they were free peasants before communism.

    • puddleg58 says

      You do not live in a democratic socialist nation; you live in a capitalist democracy which chooses to spend some of its credit on socialist plans.
      This is probably the best-of-both worlds solution, but it will not last if the nations using it don’t see where their welfare and stability originate.

      • dirk says

        All our political parties use socialistic language and preaching in their party programmes, even out rightwing parties, to gain the votes of a majority, of course. That doesn’t mean that small and large enterprises and even multinationals are blocked in their activities, now even the ousting of the famous dividend taxes, to lure those multinationals, are going to be nullified.

        • dirk says

          Friedman called West Germany a quasi-socialistic welfare state, so, not a full blooded one( to his chagrin?). Socialism is, maybe, seen whereever the eyes of the beholder are staring!

    • Harland says

      Conveniently ignoring that the security that makes it all possible is given for free by America, the world’s most brutal fascist dictatorship. The American people can’t have nice things because of the enormous cost of giving things away for free to Europeans. America not only provides for 75% of European defense for free, but also secures the world’s oceans for free enabling those great exports, and also subsidizes Europe with $150 billion every year in unfair trade agreements. Remember Bernie’s free college program that everyone mocked as unaffordable? $60 billion a year. Trump’s wall? $25 billion once.

      • dirk says

        I just came across in my newspaper: USA spending about 600 billion on defence, Russia only 60, the EU some 300. It’s clear where the power is uptil now. How will it be in 50 years from now?? China??

  15. Thanks to Hollywood movies, most people have a mental image of “evil” as being someone who intentionally wants to hurt innocent people. This is a false image, as all known evils in history (Nazis, communists, even Charles Manson) thought they can save/improve humanity or the world by eliminating some obstacles (some other people). So in reality evil people think of themselves as extremely morally good people. That is what evil is: unrestrained destroyers. This is what most people don’t understand.
    Another aspect to it is wanting to be/look extremely morally good, is a desire of narcissists and maybe sociopaths. This way they seek out ideologies that would give them that morally-supreme position, and they do not realize that most of these ideologies are evil. Simply because they just don’t understand the nature of evil in reality.

    What if the cause of the behavior of leftists is not caused directly by the leftist ideology (post-modern Neo-Marxism, or Cultural Marxism or Communism)? What if it is caused by those people already being narcissistic psychopaths, and the leftist ideology is only a CATALYZER that activates all the worst instincts of narcissistic psychopaths?
    If this is true (let’s call it the catalyzer theory), then the destruction of communism open borders Marxism is biologically built into humanity. By arguing against one current ideology, only treats the issue superficially, but next time with a modified ideology we are back to square one. some say leftists cannot be psychopaths, because they have compassion. I argue that the “compassion” of leftists is fake, pretense. Because they never show compassion towards victims of terrorism or victims of migrant grooming gangs. Psychopaths fake compassion on order to prove that they are normal, but in the same time they hate everything that is normal and want to invert all value systems and power structures created by normal people. These catalyzer ideologies or political movements can be carefully engineered to fit the minds of narcissistic sociopaths, so it is like a bio/mental weapon launched by an internal or external enemy. It is like hacking the most dangerous minds and turning them into a collective weapon.
    Remember there was leftist mass murder even before Carl Marx wrote anything: the 10 year terror of the French revolution.

    As narcissistic psychopaths are born into every single generation, the threat of socialism and mass murder is present in every generation. The actual ideology may appear to be different, but it goes down the same way every time.
    What we need is a safeguard against the god-complex of narcissistic psychopaths, not just a safeguard against a particular ideology that changes every generation. This changing ideology makes it hard to fight it, but if we focus on the non-changing part (god-complex of narcissistic psychopaths) we could ensure fast detection and prevention.

    • Peter from Oz says

      B

      Your comment is very prescient.
      I would add that one of the traits I notice in strident leftists is projection. It is almost as if they are displacing their own feelings of shame and guilt onto others.
      There’s an old saying in Australia: in a gang of gay bashers, the one who bashes the victim hardest is the real homosexual.
      The SJWs can govern their own weaknesses only by sublimating them into a belief that other people who have not swallowed the new religion must be guilty of the same thoughtcrimes that the SJWs struggle to overcome. That is the strident left version of the doctrine of original sin. But of course the SJWs rarely overcome their natures: hence anti-racism inevitably becomes racism against whites or other races seen as more powerful than the ”victim” races. Feminism too leads the extreme SJW into a gross discrimination against masculinity in any form.
      Of course, very few people who describe themselves as being on the left are like this. But they are like the famous ”moderate muslims”, sympathetic to the broad ideas posed by the zealots. And it only takes 10% of mild leftists to be sympathetic enough to assist the zealots for the cancer of the SJWs to become a social menace.

      • “The SJWs can govern their own weaknesses only by sublimating them into a belief that other people who have not swallowed the new religion must be guilty of the same thought-crimes that the SJWs struggle to overcome.”
        – exactly.

        “And it only takes 10% of mild leftists to be sympathetic enough to assist the zealots for the cancer of the SJWs to become a social menace.”
        -exactly. They are all complicit. They look at the SJWs as prophets.

        My point was, that this leftism is (I think) a personality type, somewhat biological, and the ideology of the time is only the catalyzer. We need to start looking into treating the root causes, not just the surface. It might even have a gene, like Parkinson’s Disease caused by a gene. All SJWs seem to inhibit the same set of symptoms, even though I don’t think the are all full scholars of leftist literature. Rather they do all this instinctively, and only a small amount of catalyzer ideology can trigger them to act out their full mental mental pre-dispositions. Schools should detect these personalities, and prescribe some psychological training to suppress their desire for moral supremacy. But schools these days do the opposite, they weaponize mentally ill people. Some psychology professor should research the narcissistic psychopath personality type and their interaction with feelings of moral supremacy, to find out what can be done about it, clinically.

  16. Kevin Herman says

    I’m going to be pretty simple about it. I want to work for the good of myself and mine (immediate family) no one else. I have no problems paying what I consider a fair tax rate and I do give to charity.

    • Bubblecar says

      Fine, but it’s only fair to acknowledge that like all selfish people, you rely on a huge number of less selfish people to continually prop up your life – medical staff, teachers, police, all kinds of technicians, engineers and labourers, not to mention the vast army of creative and inquiring people who provide you with science, art and entertainment.

      So continue being as useless and selfish as you like, but please don’t expect anyone to regard you as “virtuous”.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Don’t be too foolish, Bubblecar. ”medical staff, teachers, police, all kinds of technicians, engineers and labourers, not to mention the vast army of creative and inquiring people who provide you with science, art and entertainment.” Many if not most of those people work for selfish motives too.

        • Bubblecar says

          I can see you’ve never actually worked as a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, or in any profession requiring effort and commitment above and beyond the rewards of (often meagre) financial compensation.

      • Heike says

        When did he say he wanted to be regarded as “virtuous”? You just made that up out of nowhere. WTF?

        Yeah, those creative and inquiring people like Dan Harman, the co-creator of “Rick and Morty,” who filmed himself raping a babydoll. The other co-creator, Justin Roiland, made a cartoon, posted on his website, about raping, torturing, and killing children. It’s very graphic and NSFL. If you want to watch it (which I don’t recommend), you can search for it yourself. The cartoon begins with two young boys who decide to go for a swim in the ocean naked.

        They get into the water and one child drowns and is shown under the water bleeding and being eaten by something.

        The other boy then gets out of the water to go get a snack. A naked adult backs up toward him and defecates into the child’s mouth.

        The next cartoon features a character that looks like a shriveled raisin going to his home, where he has two children tied up who are shaking and scared. Above them is a clock with a penis and a swinging testicle. The gray thing tells the children that since he’s been sexually gratified he must get rid of them.

        He then takes a knife and skins one child’s face and wears it as his own while he skins the other child’s face.

        In the next cartoon, a man in the park starts asking a child if he wants to see something, promising not to “stick my dick in you.” Then he pulls out a knife, stabs the child in the stomach, and proceeds to rape the knife wound while yelling “I’m f*cking the stab hole”

        Thousands of virtuous, creative and inquiring people got behind Harman and Roiland and supported them even when all this evidence was exposed.

        • So…. What now? Dan Harmon offensive cartoon…. something something… I guess he’s not virtuous either and that’s important because… Socialism?

          I think Heike really wanted to type out that graphic summary. That’s what I think.

        • Bubblecar says

          Hmm, mysterious indeed that you chose to reply to my post with a completely irrelevant description of cartoon plots by some obscure person I’ve never heard of.

          If you wanted to discuss film, you could have chosen any classic or award-winning works of cinema, while resting assured that nearly all of them were created by left-leaning liberals. Or fine artistic achievements of any kind, and again, the vast majority of the creators are people on my side of politics. Ditto with science and technology.

          The fact is, the right-wing side of politics – your side – produces virtually no art and virtually no science. That’s OK, but please don’t pretend that having nothing to contribute makes you somehow “virtuous”.

  17. A strange essay, one that doesn’t really define “socialism”, which is a problem because concepts like social insurance essential to the New Deal and the post-WWII American social order are routinely described as “socialism” by the Right and the “Centrist Left” and even the far Left.

    For example, Bernie Sanders is a “socialist” because he wants social insurance like Medicare expanded to everyone, and free college (like Germany). Obviously, America has single payer health care for old people, and Canada and much of the world has it for all, and so either America is “socialist” or “communist” and the Cold War was a farce, or we need to be careful in how we distinguish here.

    Likewise, no advanced “capitalist” country in the world permits “freedom of association”, and most don’t even permit “freedom of speech”, as both are routinely viewed and characterized as racist.

    The other thing is that “socialism” becomes divested of meaning with the collapse of the USSR, a geopolitical power interested in spreading Soviet communism across the globe, from Cuba to Angola to Afghanistan. Without a foreign patron, revolutionary socialists have no way of meaningfully gaining traction, and it all degenerates into ego-fueled debating societies over who is really socialist and who is a fascist.

    I think James Burnham’s analysis of the rise of the Managerial State is more cogent than breaking the world down into “Capitalism” and “Communism” (and “National Socialism”), as all advanced states now embody different styles of managerial societies, with intensive social engineering, restrictions on freedom of speech, association, and religion, extensive limits on rights of private property in the name of social engineering, as well as extensive national security apparatus used for illiberal purposes against citizens as well as foreigners.

    • Peter from Oz says

      KD

      I think there is a lot to what you say. “”Socialist” today seems to be the badge worn by those of a collectivist disposition. As on e commenter said above there is quite a long tradition of such people, mostly psychologically damaged zealots and obsessives, who have a loathing of trade and commerce but want to cheat their way to power by political means.

  18. Paul says

    The only investment the left has is in “victimhood” – that’s what keeps them going, and allows them to signal their ostensibly altruistic and virtuous stances relentlessly… while usually accomplishing nothing except lip service on behalf of all the victims they claim to care about. They want so much to overcome the injustices of the world, but it is actually the assuming of power that drives them.

    Have you noticed that liberals are the creative people with “all the right solutions,” and that the conservatives are merely there to provide the managerial manpower and oversee the heavy lifting? And when things go wrong with the left’s brilliant plans, who gets the blame?

    A deciding question: when a society is in decline, is that a result of too much liberalism or too much conservatism? And I’m not talking about ideological categories here, but basic behavior and attitude. A true conservative is as a conservative does, and vice versa.

    • Bubblecar says

      @Paul

      “managerial manpower”

      I’m not sure what year you’re living in, but most corporate managers/CEOs these days are liberal, not conservative. They may well be capitalists, but most see themselves as modern, socially liberal, progressive-minded capitalists.

      It’s those in charge of governments – i.e., politicians – who tend to be conservative, and it might be worth reminding yourself that governments represent the state. The more conservative those governments, the more authoritarian they tend to be, and the less respectful of the “freedom” so lavishly (if misleadingly) extolled in the article.

      • Bernard Hill says

        Your use of the conservative and liberal labels is obscuring whatever it is you’re trying to say B’car, at least for me. It can be more and informative to see those with public sector and private managerial power, as the “Insiders” who comprises the professional political class, the permanent bureaucracy, the media supporting traditional political gamesmanship, and the managerial elements of the commercial industrial complex. The “Outsiders” are, well, pretty much everyone else. Importantly, many of the ‘not so poor’ economically speaking, and even very wealthy types are nevertheless Outsiders, when it comes to influencing managerial policy matters. So are many who are religious conservatives, and many who are in disadvantaged minorities. On the other hand, people active in both the traditional red and blue political teams in most of the developed countries are really in the same camp. The intriguing thing at the moment is how the Insiders as a common interest grouping are so busy defending their status quo from the grave threat of “populism”, an ironic charge in a democracy if there was ever was one.

  19. Sydney says

    The idiot union teachers K-12 do nothing but indoctrinate with far-left, globalist, anti-nationalist propaganda. I threatened my 15-year-old with the gulag if he refused to read this. He read it and the water metaphor was a winner. Great piece.

  20. Chip says

    One of the confusions of 20th century political analysis is the idea that economic systems are like the laws of physics, and like gravity, produce the same outcome everywhere, and all the time.

    So state ownership of the factors of production would inevitably produce the same result in Moscow as Tokyo, and the private ownership of capital would produce the same results in Norway or Haiti.

    But of course, this is not even remotely the case. The outcome of how a society develops relies on a lot of factors, many different choices and decisions and economics is only a small part.

  21. @Sydney
    Lol, I like your parenting style. My kids have intuitively picked up on socialism being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or just plain theft. Both my dad and my father-in-law are successful small business owners who came from working class parents and worked their a$$ off to build up their companies. So, I asked my 12 year old if he thought it was fair that either of his Grandpas, who have spent 30 some odd years working their butts off 18 hours a day, should have their companies confiscated “for the greater good” or even if they should have to give up 50-65% of profits over to the government, again “for the greater good”.
    Right away my son got it, it clicked because we see small business owners all around us. These are not Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg.

    My kids have also been told that when they hear the terms “such and such need to pay their fair share” or more importantly, the term “For The Greater Good” these are red flags, and their dealing with statist. I currently have framed posters of the Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights in my house. So, I’m doing some heavy counter-indoctrinating (which is my right as a parent) myself before the pull towards the leftist current gets a hold of them.

  22. Andrew_W says

    The approach of telling people that socialism and communism are bad is analogous to telling kids that booze is bad, the more you talk down to them the more they want to try it. Free market capitalism works, it’s proven to work better than any other economic system anyones come up with, so a better approach is to be positive about the best system we have and ignore the silly people preaching a failed system.

  23. Quillette is a fantastic site. Th earticles whether I agree with them or not are generally well argued but I faiel dto finissh this article. It was just too detached from reality. First we read that prior to the enclosure of the commons the ‘individual was free to appropriate from nature what he or she needed to survive’. What utter nonsense the ownership of resources and a legal system to control access and resolve disputes had existed for thousands of years before this. In fact it seeems certain that such things existsed more or less from the invention of agriculture and before that in the form of tribal rules and conflict.

    Then the article sates that ‘socialists similarly argue that all private property is theft’ really. I am sure some the authour categorises as such have but I have never heard a socialist make such a statement.

    I stopped reading at this point. The article completely misrepresents history and creates a grotsque strawman argument to argue against. A grown up argument could talk about the spectrum all economic systems exist on between economic freedom and regulation and social measures, the spectrum of politcal freedom and how they are inter-related.

    What we seem to have is an embarrassing fact free fundamentalist rant which seems more appropriate on a private blog with a few tens of subscribers than Quillette.

    • “I have never heard a socialist make such a statement.”

      Ever heard of a guy named Karl Marx? He is a pretty popular socialist.

  24. Bernard Hill says

    Actually AJ, you don’t need to worry, the turgid bits of this particular article are less directed at us average Jane Does, than the dogged philosophical hair splitters. I think its overall points are well made though. Trying to escape the (still mysterious) fundamentals of our nature, and overcome our diverse cultural histories, with a universalist creed of any kind is the pathway to hell.

  25. Spike says

    Without the trades/guilds, neither would exist.
    It’s always interesting to me observing the ‘intellectuals’ bickering, without mentioning the trade guilds.
    Ideology and (then), the politics.
    SMH….

  26. We _are_ rich, we are not just as rich as the richest, but we can all afford what would have counted as the most exuberant of luxuries and technological miracles even fifty years ago. It’s just that when luxury becomes commonplace, we stop recognizing it as what it is – an insane boost to the standard of living compared to almost anyone in our history.

    Everyone has access to a cell phone, and the poor are more obese than famished. That is a historical miracle.

    Communism feeds on our petty jealousy, and it will always have it’s adherents, because there will always be those among us who like to dress up their own bitter resentment as benevolence towards the downtrodden.

  27. “Socialism requires unanimity.” This proposition, critical to the essay’s conclusion, is not supported by argument.

  28. chatnoir50 says

    My mother cured me of ‘socialism’ when, as a fifteen-year old, she gave me a copy of a One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

    • dirk says

      @chat: was that part of her education , the raising of her kids?? I was brought up with quite positive books, and only much later with the horrible and stupendous ones. But, of course, it’s all a matter of preference.

  29. dirk says

    Bruce Gilley wrote that fantastic -The Case for Colonialism- (I agree with almost all, it’s great stuff).

    Likewise, an article in Quillette -The Case for Socialism – would be a timely and needed essay, especially for the many comments , that it, without a doubt, will evoke. I certainly will be one of those commenters, I promise.

  30. D.B. Cooper says

    For reasons not entirely clear to me, a number of comments – although a minority view, to be sure – have taken issue with Bessette’s semantical treatment of the term socialism as it relates to communism in contemporary (Western) society at large. The pearl-clutching centers around the idea that Bessette has, either by omission or commission, unduly conflated the term with communism/Marxism, and in doing so, has misrepresented what socialism is ‘commonly’ understood to mean within Western societies today, i.e., democratic socialism.

    This is a curious proposition, not because I question the commenters’ sincerity – save one or two concomitant variations from professional dilettantes of the far Left – but because it seems to suggest that we can arrive at a more historically ignorant nuanced (read palatable) understanding of the concept by extricating a theoretically distinct substrate of socialism from anachronistic abstractions – albeit historically accurate ones – that are, for all intents and purposes, immaterial to the current economic and socio-political aims of Western societies.

    I should say that insofar as words matter, and they do, the importance of establishing judicious clarity is something that we probably cannot, but certainly should not be eager to dispense with. To that end, there can be little doubt the comments in question have, if nothing else, provided a measure of value to the discussion that would otherwise be missed in their absence. As to whether the stated objection(s) are true, is another matter.

    In one regard, it’s hard to argue that this criticism is totally unwarranted; since, Bessette does seem to commingle the terms (socialism & communism) when he claims that a Marxist system – whether socialist or communist, democratic or totalitarian – can be “summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.

    But the question still remains: “Is Bessette correct to identify contemporary Western socialism with the communism/Marxism of yesteryear?

    The argument seems to be that the economic and socio-political aims of most modern-day socialists – take Bernie Sanders and/or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s as an example – are recognizably different from those of Marxist/communist Russia, China, N. Korea, etc.; and therefore, there is no risk, as Bessette claims, of Western socialism “degenerate[ing] into an authoritarian nightmare.” Contemporary Western socialism, they assert, is not a slippery slope to the gulags, and to suggest otherwise is grievously indecent, bordering on bad faith incitement.

    But is it? Tell me, anyone will do, what precisely are the governing tenets of most socialists today? Granted, I’ve yet to hear of anyone planning the bourgeois genocide, but surely no one is suggesting that as the definitive qualifying criteria for the current iteration of socialism. So, what are the defining characteristics of modern-day socialism? What makes the current rendition a sufficiently qualified ideology that is separate and apart from “traditional” socialism and its relationship to communism/Marxism?

    In truth, I doubt anyone can say with any degree of specificity. And, herein, lies the problem. Despite what many would like to think, the term, as it’s applied today, is too vague, too inclusive to borrow a phrase, for anyone to claim there is an appreciable difference from traditional ideals of socialism.

    And, yet, we are continually reassured of these meaningful differences, not by enumeration of course, but by deftly parried rhetorical mechanisms, masterful understatements, and paternalistic guidance posing as grand declarations of truth.

    Though slippery they may be, the existent of these innominate distinctions are blindly advanced, not because of material facts, but because those who do (the intellectual zeitgeist) pretend that it is consensus that counts, while depicting the consensus in terms of people who believe as they do. Ironically, the only consensus that one can gleaned with any regularity is that ‘Bernie Sanders’ socialism 2.0 is markedly distinct from socialism 1.0. And therefore, any attempt at finding an adequate description devolves – predictably some may say – into a form of question begging, where every aspect of the concept becomes circular, and nothing can be said that actually approximates to the reality of the situation.

    It should be noted that this equivocation is by design as it prevents socialism 2.0 from being tethered to an objective standard, or more importantly, the historical record. Progressives, in general, love ambiguous terms/concepts. The flexibility of ambiguous terms/concepts affords progressive politicians the ability to define their positions in whatever way best fits their current oppression narrative at that moment in time; which then allows them to keep their political promises without ever actually having made any. If you doubt this, just ask the next Leftists politician you meet what he or she means by “paying your fair share,” not conceptually, but precisely. What percentage of income qualifies a person or group as having paid their fair share? If there was every anything more convenient than relativism, I’m not aware of it. It is without question the worst thing to happen to the concept of ‘Truth’ since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels took an un-mitigating shit on the entirety of Western Society writ large.

    What’s more, if the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) counts for anything, the question might not be, “Is Bessette correct?”, but rather “Why isn’t Bessette correct?” Consider, for example, the DSA’s position on private corporations:

    We believe that the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them… Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives… While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.

    In the short term we can’t eliminate private corporations, but we can bring them under greater democratic control…

    Just imagine what it took to string together that pedestrian screed of policies so nakedly absurd you could – but really should – throw a clot trying to defend. As with the postmodern philosophy, the worst advertisement for socialism is its adherents. In short, ethics scale. It is no less wrong for a collective “worker-owned cooperative” to take your property than it is for one person to take it. Socialists today, believe, as they always have, that you can gain something (healthcare, education, job, etc.) at the expense of someone else and then call that thing a right; and they are more than ready, as they have always been, to give to political dissidents the full benefit of their sincerely exercised tyranny.

    • D-Rex says

      D.B. wow, it was a pleasure reading your comment just for the prose. Which BTW diminishes Bubblecar’s assertion that conservatives contribute nothing to art as this comment was certainly of artistic merit.

      • D.B. Cooper says

        @D-Rex

        Lol, I don’t know about that, but I appreciate the compliment. Thank you, Sir.

    • I always chuckle at the Hillary-voting-Bernie-bro’s that declare “America already has lots of socialism” because it has Medicare and public works projects. Then they will recoil in shock when someone refers to the NAZI regime, who had public healthcare and public works projects, as a socialist regime.

      The only difference between a Democratic Socialist (a real one, not a “teh Post Office is Socialismzz” try hard) and a Marxist (Marx referred to himself as a Socialist, after all) is the former declares that the proletariat revolution can be gained through democratic means, rather than a bloody revolution.

      Of course, anarcho-communists are also supposedly anti-Marxist, but they certainly dont shy away from rocking the hammer and sickle.

  31. dirk says

    Trying to describe, identify or fix -socialism- or -communism- (or, both, in one and the same try, why not?) in a short sentence of 5 or 6 words is like trying to hunt and find the Snark of Lewis Carrol. ” Yo no soy socialista” (I’m not a socialist), said Hugo Chavez during a campaign . I know another Latin American song ” Yo no soy marinero” (sung by somebody, who very obviously is a marinero). ” Soy capitan ….. soy capitan…..!!! Yes, of course, you are, nobody will deny that, even where they would try so with both hands. It all depends from the audience and the atmosphere, what you say or what you feel (in favour or against).

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  34. listdervernunft says

    A) The concept of private property includes, among other things, the exclusive ownership, occupancy and consumption of a specific portion of time, space and matter. Its abolition therefore entails the negation of temporal, spatial and material specificity as such. Without specificity, however, there can be no determinacy, no particularity, no difference of any kind. And without difference, there can be no identity, since identity presupposes a background of difference from which it distinguishes itself and thereby identifies itself as “this” distinct individuality: A=(-B)=A

    B) The communistic undifferentiated [lack of] self-identity which wants A=A without the concrete, mediating moment of (-B), is, therefore, nothing more (nor less) than a dead abstraction. Moreover, it is an abstraction that unknowingly calls for the abolition of concrete consciousness itself, since in order to be conscious of something one must first be aware of that thing’s difference from oneself.

    C) Conclusion: No private property means no specificity; and no specificity means no difference; but no difference means no distinct identity; and no distinct identity means no consciousness since concrete consciousness is always [intentional] consciousness “of” something distinct. In short, communism is [ultimately] the negation of consciousness itself.

  35. Be more specific, list d.v., like Locke was. He reasoned, my body is mine, and my work and my labour too, so, where I work and develop some land and improve it, that belongs to me, and to nobody else. The original americans (but also the africans) had completely different thoughts about land use and property, alas, they had no guns and power, and lost the philosophy, view and law system of land use. The consciousness of the West is not the universal type of human consciousness, it’s just an ephemeral system, not very old, and not eternal.

  36. brad gillespie says

    Freedom is messy, and unfair. But the mess and the unfairness are minor costs for being able to live a life that is in your control, and protected by laws. We live in a period now when radical dems would like to move our system to a one party system, one essentially that is more similar to a dictatorship than a democracy — or better yet, a constitutional republic. The Kavanagh debacle showed just how much dems are willing to cross the line, into a lawless, outside the constitution, nightmare, that they would control, as they bayed and whined like uneducated children in their opposition to a man who is perfectly suitable to the position he was being considered for. And watching the apocalyptic whining of the demons clawing on the senate doors after the decision was incomprehensible. How does that sort of utter nonsense occur in an adult world? (and not a world of distraught 4 year olds who desperately need a nap?). The dems are continually pushing farther and farther as they grope for the controls of the country…as they attempt to dismantle our institutions — the ones that make our country different from China and Russia. One party rule, absent any protective laws, is their goal. Their hatred to freedom and law was revealed during the Kavanagh clearance circus.

  37. Quiddam says

    It’s a good attempt, but it does not really follow to make the connection between “private property” as understood here and the need to have common goals and that everybody has to be equal, let alone that empowering the government leads surely to a lack of freedom.

    And actually the Communist manifesto makes the same mistake. The defense they are giving are fairly legitimate and are in themselves quite benign. It is simply about giving workers enough wage to be more than simply just subsisting. They even say it is not about getting rid of private property altogether, and that businesses can still be owned and make profit.

    Yet somehow, they come to some pretty awful plans to give the State all powers, and force people into working in agricultural land, even dead lands, and move people around out of cities and disperse them. So sure at this point it is clearly a tyranny that is worst than whatever capitalism was even in those days, and it was pretty bad. It is clearly not democratic, and even though it has an interest in the worker, it does not seem that it has the worker’s interest in mind, or even care to ask him what he might think.

    Yet some of those things have been implemented successfully, like gradual taxation, or some hybrid, like public transports, and in some places some nationalization of industries and communications. Communication is tricky, and needs to stay hybrid and not monopolized by the State.

    I don’t really see how this is relevant to today’s world though, as not too many people are asking for communism. Some people are pushing for nationalization, and that is one thing to be cautious about, always. But people asking for the government to do something for them, is called a democracy, which means empowering it, otherwise, there is no point in it. As for the Federalist paper, it is about another subject entirely, and the difference between a republic and a direct democracy. Nowhere does it say a republic should not listen to people, just that the representation allows hopefully less discord, and wiser decision making overall, which is probably true in general.

    The Jacobin paper actually makes some better case that is not tyrannical in the same way the Communist Manifesto is. Some private property, some public property, depending if the resource is public or not. That sounds reasonable, although it is not always possible to make things that should be public public, due to specialization, so things get outsourced to the private, but it does not mean they own it and have all the rights to those resources, and no government believes that either, although in practice, like in the case of mining, they pretty much give all the rights of exploitation.

    The big problem with the Soviets and the Nazis, is that they considered people the property of the State, which was to be ruled by a small party of people that are not elected and do not represent anybody, except themselves and their ideology. That’s why people need to keep demands of the government, otherwise it will end up like that. What happened was that those people were given a blank check to do pretty much whatever because they said they knew better. It’s just not how it should work. Its true of the government, but also of businesses that want to use wage labor.

  38. What you say is: the ideology is not that bad, and maybe even much better than capitalism, free market and democracy, but the vanguards and activists trying to build their ideal system just always made big mistakes,using their power or other forces to clear the road and install their ideal state of community. It sounds very much like what Churchil said: democracy is not an ideal state form, but of all the possible ones, the one with least disadvantages and damage.

  39. pmartindeux@gmail.com says

    The cause of all wars and revolutions — in a word, of all violence — is always the same: the negation of hierarchy. (Valentin Tomberg)

    • What about the French Revolution, pmartin2?? In which the centuries old system of hierarchy was seen as tyrannie ?

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