Politics, Recommended, World Affairs

The Bolivarian God That Failed

The day after Venezuela’s National Assembly voted to declare its president, Juan Guaidó, interim President of the Republic, I received a text from a former friend. “If the U.S. topples Vz [Venezuela],” he wrote, “I will hold you responsible.” I would have been happy to accept this responsibility had I done anything important enough to deserve it. But the idea was absurd and he knew it. If the Venezuelan regime falls—and I hope that it does—it won’t even be possible to credit (or blame) the United States. It is the Venezuelan people who finally are taking their destiny in hand and rejecting an intolerable status quo.

The message was not a serious attempt to apportion responsibility for Venezuela’s current upheaval; it was an attempt to shame me for my treacherous betrayal of the Bolivarian cause. An early supporter of the Revolution, I had traveled to Venezuela in 2013 to cover the April presidential elections. By the time I returned to the US, I was disillusioned and depressed. I decided I needed to start writing and speaking about what I had seen there. In an article I wrote for the radical magazine Counterpunch around that time, I argued that “the so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is bankrupt: morally, ideologically, and economically,” and I asked what we, as leftist solidarity activists, should do in response. “Should we continue to make excuses for incompetence, corruption, and irresponsibility and thereby make ourselves accomplices?” I asked. “Or should we tell the truth?”

Hugo Chavez, 45th President of Venezuela

I had resolved to tell the truth. Having been so wrong about something so consequential, I felt it was the least I could do. By then, Venezuela was already in a terrible mess. Many of those I had helped to convince of the possibilities offered by Bolivarian socialism were deeply suspicious of the mainstream media and deserved to hear what was going on from a writer they trusted. But, as it turned out, the people I wanted to reach didn’t want to hear such things. And the people I asked to publish my articles didn’t much want me to write about them either. As a result of my voltafaccia, former comrades and friends contacted my editors and publishers in (occasionally successful) attempts to have my articles spiked. I was denounced and slandered online and in print. Phone calls and emails to people I had thought of as friends now went unanswered. On those occasions when I encountered one of them in public, they looked the other way. Abruptly, I found myself excommunicated, and people I’d known for 30 or 40 years made it clear that they no longer wanted to be part of my life.

*     *     *

I’d originally come to California from the Bible Belt in the mid-’70s in search of enlightened neighbors. I knew what it was to live an isolated life. It had been lonely on my father’s farm in Southern Oklahoma. I had endured farm life for five years but, having grown up in the military, I longed for the company of diverse, worldly-wise people one often found among military brats. Having become a Christian a few years before, I hoped Berkeley would offer a deeper faith than I’d found in fundamentalist churches.

I hitchhiked west and in Berkeley I joined the “radical Christian” community of the House Church of Berkeley that had grown out of Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF). From the margins of that community I gradually found my way, through liberation theology, into the secular Left. For nearly a decade I did solidarity work with the Sandinista Revolution until that process came to a halt when its “vanguard” Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was removed from power in the elections of 1990.

Following the collapse of communism, I ended up with the other “dead-enders” in Berkeley, scratching around in the depleted soil of radical politics for any worm of hope that might emerge. Those were desperate years. I soon hitched a ride on the Redwood Summer bandwagon, the joint IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, “Wobblies”) and Earth First! project to protect the last stands of old growth redwoods in Northern California from logging companies. I played a very minor role in that campaign, printing the flyers announcing the actions, but I was quickly drawn into working in the IWW. I was briefly an editor for the Bay Area Branch Bulletin and a co-editor of the Industrial Worker, and then I spent ten years in an IWW union job shop (New Earth Press) where my partner and I did a lot of ecological printing for local community organizations.

After we sold the business, I went to graduate school at San Francisco State University for a couple of very dismal years in academia. Then, after graduation, I spent the summer of 2004 in Nicaragua interviewing ex-Sandinistas who were now in opposition to the FSLN, the “glorious revolutionary vanguard,” which had been reduced over time to the status of a populist party serving the caudillo (strongman) Daniel Ortega. During the years of the Nicaraguan Revolution (1979-1990), I had translated and published the revolutionary poetry and writings of Sandinista militants—mostly farmers, low-ranking militia members, and even young children. As I was a poet, it seemed appropriate work to help spread the word about a process I found hopeful, and endangered by the hostile policies of the Reagan administration. I knew very little at the time of the Sandinistas’ responsibility for generating the war that would eventually tear their country apart. Most of us on the radical Left distrusted the media, and it was only recently that I returned to that period (in Chapter 11 of my 2016 memoir) to uncover details I had ignored during the years of that brutal civil conflict.

Foremost among the poets I’d translated during the years of the Sandinista Revolution was Ernesto Cardenal, a revolutionary priest and the Sandinista Minister of Culture. Cardenal and other “liberation theologians” were preaching a synthesis of Marxist revolutionary ideology and Christian theology, and they were my inspiration back then. By 2004, I no longer identified with Christianity, and my faith in Marxism was also in doubt. Nevertheless, I still considered myself some kind of socialist, and I thought Cardenal might be able to reassure me that there were embers of socialism still burning somewhere in Latin America. He duly obliged. Towards the end of our interview, when I asked him to name the projects in Latin America today which gave him hope, he didn’t mention (as I thought he would) the Zapatistas. “The Bolivarian Revolution,” he announced. President Hugo Chávez was doing some very interesting things down in Venezuela, he thought, and he encouraged me to visit and see for myself.

So, that December, eager to learn more, I flew down to Venezuela on Christmas break from Berkeley City College where I had been working as an adjunct English instructor. I immediately fell in with like-minded leftists in the small Andrean city of Mérida, who introduced me to a good part of the Bolivarian community there. I was so inspired by what I found that I decided to take a year off from teaching so I could follow the Bolivarian process first-hand.

It is as difficult as it is uncomfortable to enter into a previous state of mind from a later, more “evolved” or developed state. I don’t like to admit that I once believed Jesus rose from the dead, but I did. I also believed that socialism would make everyone brothers and sisters and end what my comrades and I called “capitalist oppression.”1 The available scientific and statistical evidence (not to mention common sense) weighs strongly against belief in bodily resurrection from the dead. History has delivered a verdict of comparable finality about socialism. This verdict is routinely dismissed on the grounds that only corrupted iterations of socialism have been tried; if socialism is designed to unite mankind, but all previous versions of socialism have failed to do so, then it follows that true socialism has yet to be successfully attempted.

Rarely do true believers stop to consider that there may be something wrong with the logic of socialism itself. In his 1993 book Post-Liberalism: Studies in Political Thought, the English philosopher John Gray wrote that Soviet socialism forced its subjects into a “vast Prisoner’s Dilemma, with each being constrained to act against his own interest and, thereby, directly or indirectly, to reproduce the order (or chaos) in which he is imprisoned. Thus Soviet subjects are compelled to compete with each other in climbing the rungs of the nomenklatura, pursuing the ordinary goods of life by party activism or, in extremis, by informing or denouncing one another, and so renewing daily the system that keeps them all captive.” These are not exactly optimal conditions for building community.

By 2004, I was already well aware of what Marxist-Leninist socialism had done to the twentieth century. So why did I fall for the socialism that Hugo Chávez proposed in Venezuela? The reasons were part push, part pull. The push came from the American invasion of Iraq less than two years earlier. After a rapid battlefield victory, the news from the Middle East seemed to be growing more dire by the day. A little over a month before I left for Venezuela, allegations began to emerge that the US military were committing war crimes in Fallujah. Surely a better way than this remained possible? As I wandered around Venezuela that December I was desperate for an alternative I could believe in, no matter how fragile.

The pull was what Hugo Chávez was proposing. He acknowledged the problems of  twentieth century socialism, and claimed to be offering something different—the Bolivarian version of “twenty-first century socialism.” This would be the “socialism with a human face” and quite unlike the repressive, totalitarian bureaucratic behemoth of Marxist-Leninism. As Chavista Gregory Wilpert insisted in his 2007 book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power, under Bolivarian socialism “ownership and control of the means of production must be collective and democratic.” Cooperatives were to play a large part in this and, after 2006, so would the local communal councils.

The money from the 2004 oil boom had saved Chávez from a recall referendum as he distributed the revenue flooding into the country among his followers. In this way, Chávez was able to fund his “revolution” from 2005 onwards. He ensured that the oil wealth would bypass the government, which he characterized as “corrupt” and (naturally) “counter-revolutionary.” Instead, money would be funnelled directly into a non-state-controlled corporate entity known as Fonden, the National Development Fund, over which, of course, Chávez personally presided. Fonden then parceled money out to cooperatives and the so-called “Missions” to the poor. During the oil boom, petroleum prices went from $10 a barrel to $100 and peaked at around $150 over the course of a decade. Given the astonishing amount of wealth generated, Chávez had a lot of money to throw at his pet projects. And, predictably, as the wealth trickled down, corruption increased since everyone had to get his or her piece of the patronage.

The cooperatives and community councils were among the many promising and inspiring initiatives dreamed up by Chávez in the early years of the boom. I witnessed these developments and documented them in my feature film, Venezuela: Revolution from the Inside Out. There really did appear to be great enthusiasm for these initiatives at the grassroots, especially as Hugo Chávez pushed them forward with massive funding. I quickly joined the chorus of supporters, first as invited poet to the Second World Poetry Festival of Venezuela in July 2005, then as a freelance (that is, unpaid) journalist for various left-leaning websites. When Chávez appeared on the scene, there were under 2000 cooperatives in the country. Once he came to power, that number skyrocketed to nearly 200,000, and I was there to document their ups and downs. I attended a few community council meetings and “political formation” training sessions, as well as a number of oil-funded projects like community kitchens, cultural events, and community development programs. It felt like something was really happening and that a fairer society was being built.

After the year I spent living in Venezuela (2005-2006), I returned as frequently as my schedule would allow, sometimes twice a year. Between 2008 and 2011, however, I became preoccupied with traveling across Latin America and conducting interviews with social movement activists for a book entitled Until the Rulers Obey that would be published in 2014. During that time, I was forced to become a “generalist” and didn’t have much time available to keep a close eye on what was happening in Venezuela. Nevertheless, from people who were watching, and from what I saw on my two visits there in 2011, I gathered that the situation was taking a bad turn. As even supporters were pointing out a few years later, by 2007 only about 15 percent of the 184,000 remaining cooperatives were active. If the distinction between earlier socialism and the Bolivarian version was that in the latter the “ownership and control of the means of production must be collective and democratic,” the new version wasn’t faring well at all.

Nicolás Maduro Moros, 46th President of Venezuela

Big questions began to arise about the financing of the community councils. Critics charged that these organizations were simply instruments that Chávez (and then Maduro) used to fund their supporters while denying access to the opposition. It was classic populism in the style of the Mexican PRI, which Mario Vargas Llosa once called “the perfect dictatorship.” By 2008, Chávez had suffered his first electoral defeat in a referendum that he had hoped would drive his socialist agenda forward. In response, he adopted a new approach to building twenty-first century socialism, and it looked very much like the twentieth century variety: nationalization of industries followed by the expropriation and redistribution of wealth and property. The “Bolivarian Revolution” was starting to look like any other rentier or petro-state—burgeoning corruption, a politics of clientelism, and a growing gap between the elite in control of the state (and, of course, the oil revenues) and the increasingly desperate mass of people at the bottom.

When the Arab Spring swept Gaddafi from power, I argued with my Venezuelan friends and felt the beginnings of a great divide opening up between us. I didn’t like the company Chávez was keeping—Gaddafi, Putin, Hezbollah, etc.—but neither was I ready to denounce him and his project as a fraud. Meanwhile, as my wife and I compiled the interviews with the social movement activists in Latin America, we began to notice themes and threads that confirmed what Raul Zibechi had told us when we visited him in Montevideo, Uruguay in the spring of 2012.

Zibechi was an astute analyst of Latin American politics with a focus on social movements. He explained that the so-called “Pink Tide” of leftwing governments that had risen to power on the wave of the commodities boom were in fact following the prescription of Robert McNamara, the former president of the World Bank and architect of the Vietnam War under Lyndon Johnson. In this scenario, moderately progressive governments were far more useful than their rightwing homologues to the world elite, because they provided a buffer between the transnational corporations and the social movements protesting the impact of resource extraction on communities and the environment. The testimony of our interviewees seemed to bear out Zibechi’s thesis. But surely this couldn’t be true of the more “radical” processes, like the one unfolding in Venezuela?

As I was writing the introductions to the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan chapters of our book, I investigated further, and what I discovered in the academic literature and reports by investigative journalists on both countries confirmed my doubts. By the mid-1990s, I’d already given up on the FSLN reforming itself. When I met Ernesto Cardenal again in 2004, he argued that there was no hope of any positive change from the “Ortega dictatorship.” My introduction to the Nicaragua chapter of our book was therefore fairly easy to write, since the direction the country was going under the Ortega mafia seemed clear. I quoted Dennis Rogers’s description of the Somoza dictatorship the FSLN had overthrown and remarked that it also described the present Ortega regime quite well: “A venal oligarchy run by a small elite satisfied to promote a form of what might be termed ‘hacienda feudalism.’” But Venezuela? Chávez? I had grown more critical, but I still believed in Chávez. As so many Chavistas in Venezuela had reassured me, “Chávez is clean, but all those surrounding him are corrupt.” This was a cult of personality—a One Man faith.

*     *     *

On the afternoon of March 5, 2013, I’d just finished another draft of my introduction to the Venezuela chapter when the phone rang and a friend told me that Hugo Chávez had died. I wrote a eulogy for Counterpunch that now, nearly six years later, I find embarrassing. I then decided to go back down to Venezuela for the elections. On the flight I caught up on my reading, including a fascinating biography of Hugo Chávez written by two well-known Venezuelan journalists, and some analyses of the massive problems in the Venezuelan economy, including the missing $29 billion dollars from the Fonden budget over which Chávez had presided.

Chávez, in the style of Latin American autocrats from time immemorial, had hand-picked his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro was a fairly hard-core Leninist with a soft spot in his heart for Sai Baba, the Hindu guru-huckster accused of child molestation before he died in 2011. Compared to Chávez, Maduro is wooden and utterly lacking in the warmth and charm of his political “father.” But he had close relations with Cuba and was part of Chávez’s trusted inner circle and, most importantly, he was Chávez’s choice. Y punto, end of discussion.

Of the difficulties I faced over the next few days attempting to enter the country and cover the April 2013 presidential election between Maduro and Henrique Capriles, I have written elsewhere. Suffice it to say that I wasn’t granted entry until the day after the elections. Even then, due to the massive nationwide protests, I only managed to get to Mérida thanks to the generosity of oppositionists who gave me a ride. Over the course of the trip, they filled me in on the details of why Maduro had only won the elections by only slightly more than a single percentage point. This was despite using all the state resources at his disposal to (illegally) pay for and promote his campaign, including the state oil company PDVSA’s buses which drove state employees to the polls to vote for him. Chavistas simply hadn’t come out in large numbers to vote for him, and clearly many of the faithful had already gone over to the opposition.

Henrique Capriles addresses the crowd at a May Day worker’s celebration in Guayana, Venezuela.

Over the next few days and weeks, as I traveled through Venezuela, I began talking to the “counter-revolutionaries” and they offered evidence of their country’s deep problems to which my Chavista friends could only respond with rhetoric. In the industrial region of Guayana in the state of Bolívar, I interviewed union workers in the nationalized industries about the collapse of those industries. I was able to confirm their claims with secret footage shot for me by a worker using my own video camera, which showed the ruined interior of an enormous state factory where not a soul was to be seen on this particular work day.

In Caracas, I met with opposition human rights activists, union leaders, and leftwing academics for interviews. As the missing pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place, the reality of the Bolivarian catastrophe overwhelmed my resistance. Emilio Campos, then Secretary General of Carbonorca, the nationalized industrial coke plant, described the Bolivarian Revolution as nothing more than “a media show.” He called himself “a revolutionary for a plurality of ideas where a country seeks balance, not just for a party, or one sector of society. I believe in freedom of thought, in a diversity of ideas. But the hegemony of power makes you narrow-minded.”

Damian Prat

The real turning point for me, however, was the interview I conducted with labor journalist Damian Prat, whose extraordinary book Guayana: El milagro al revés (Guayana: The Reversed Miracle) I had read over the two or three days it took me to get to Guayana from Merida by bus. The interview took place within a day or two of the shocking beatings of several prominent opposition National Assembly deputies by Chavista deputies during an official session. The state television cameras were turned off during the violence and afterwards, as the wounded were taken to the hospital. I was still shaken by the footage some brave parliamentarians had captured on their cell phones and leaked to the press.

I met Prat at his office at the Correo del Caroní, the Guayanesa daily paper. As I turned on my video camera, Prat smiled wryly. “Some of you in the critical, intellectual circles of Europe and the United States seem to think it’s fine that in the countries of our Latin America there are arbitrary governments and processes full of abuses that in your countries you wouldn’t consider allowing for a minute. No, in your own country you’d militantly reject the same things you seem to feel are perfectly fine to take place down here, so far away, where it’s exotic and interesting…” I felt my face redden with shame, and I suddenly felt my whole world capsize.

Rubén González

It would be months before I was able to return to Guayana to interview Rubén González, the former Chavista and Secretary General of Iron Mine Workers Union of the Orinoco (Sintra Ferrominera del Orinoco) about his own experience of imprisonment without trial “just for doing my job in the union and defending the rights of workers.” Referring to the claims of “sabotage” as the reason the industries were failing in the country, González told me that those in government “never thought of governing, but rather of enriching their little group in power. They never invested in these businesses, but totally bled them dry. They themselves are the saboteurs.” At the time of this writing, González is back in jail for organizing on behalf of workers in the state ironworks.

*     *     *

All of a sudden, I found myself in a strange world. I had drifted—at first gradually, but then definitively—into the camp of my former “enemies,” persuaded by their narrative and by the evidence before my own eyes. And, as I did so, I discovered that the editors of the news sites where I’d published my passionate defenses of the Bolivarian project for the past few years no longer responded to my pitches or my queries or my emails. As Venezuela disintegrated, I was lost and confused and alone.

And then, while I was grieving the loss of my innocent old life and its many friendships, something curious and unexpected began to happen. I discovered a great sense of excitement as I investigated “new” ideas for which I’d previously had nothing but contempt. I found myself reminded of Herbert Spencer’s quote at the end of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

For the next two years, I delved into the literature on Venezuela with renewed interest. Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold’s book, A Dragon in the Tropics, it turned out, was particularly well-researched and compelling. Since I could no longer get my writing published in any of the outlets for which I’d previously written, I redirected my energies into making a new film entitled In the Shadow of the Revolution with the help of a Venezuelan filmmaker and friend, Arturo Albarrán, and I wrote my political memoir for an adventurous anarchist publisher. But what preoccupied me more and more were the larger questions of socialism versus capitalism, and the meaning of liberalism.

I’d visited Cuba twice—in 1994 and again in 2010—and now, with my experience of Venezuela, I felt I’d seen the best socialism could offer. Not only was that offering pathetically meagre, but it had been disastrously destructive. It became increasingly clear to me that nothing that went under that rubric functioned nearly as well on any level as the system under which I had been fortunate enough to live in the US. Why then, did so many decent people, whose ethics and intelligence and good intentions I greatly respected, continue to insist that the capitalist system needed to be eliminated and replaced with what had historically proven to be the inferior system of socialism?

The strongest argument against state control of the means of production and distribution is that it simply didn’t—and doesn’t—work. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding—and in this case, there was no pudding at all. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen socialism fail in China, fail in the Soviet Union, fail in Eastern Europe, fail on the island of Cuba, and fail in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas. And now the world is watching it fail in Venezuela, where it burned through billions of petro-dollars of financing, only to leave the nation worse off than it was before. And still people like me had insisted on this supposed alternative to capitalism, stubbornly refusing to recognize that it is based on a faulty premise and a false epistemology.

As long ago as the early 1940s, F.A. Hayek had identified the impossibility of centralized social planning and its catastrophic consequences in his classic The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s writings convinced the Hungarian economist, János Kornai, to dedicate an entire volume entitled The Socialist System to demonstrating the validity of his claims. The “synoptic delusion”—the belief that any small group of people could hold and manage all the information spread out over millions of actors in a market economy—Kornai argued, leads the nomenklatura to make disastrous decisions that disrupt production and distribution. Attempts to “correct” these errors only exacerbate the problems for the same reasons, leading to a whole series of disasters that result, at last, in a completely dysfunctional economy, and then gulags, torture chambers, and mass executions as the nomenklatura hunt for “saboteurs” and scapegoats.

The synoptic delusion—compounded by immense waste, runaway corruption, and populist authoritarianism—is what led to the mayhem engulfing Venezuela today, just as it explains why socialism is no longer a viable ideology to anyone but the kind of true believer I used to be. For such people, utopian ideologies might bring happiness into their own lives, and even into the lives of those around them who also delight in their dreams and fantasies. But when they gain control over nations and peoples, their harmless dreams become the nightmares of multitudes.

Capitalism, meanwhile, has dramatically raised the standard of living wherever it has been allowed to arise over the past two centuries. It is not, however, anything like a perfect or flawless system. Globalization has left many behind, even if their lives are far better than those of their ancestors just two hundred years ago, and vast wealth creation has produced vast inequalities which have, in turn, bred resentment. Here in California, the city of Los Angeles, “with a population of four million, has 53,000 homeless.” Foreign policy misadventures and the economic crash of 2008 opened the door to demagogues of the Left and the Right eager to exploit people’s hopes and fears so that they could offer themselves as the solution their troubled nations sought to the dystopian woe into which liberal societies had fallen. In his fascinating recent jeremiad Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen itemizes liberal democracy’s many shortcomings and, whether or not one accepts his stark prognosis, his criticisms merit careful thought and attention.

Nevertheless, markets do work for the majority, and so does liberal democracy, as dysfunctional as it often is. That is because capitalism provides the space for ingenuity and innovation, while liberal democracy provides room for free inquiry and self-correction. Progress and reform can seem maddeningly sluggish under such circumstances, particularly when attempting to redress grave injustice or to meet slow-moving existential threats like climate change. But I have learned to be wary of those who insist that the perfect must be the enemy of the good, and who appeal to our impatience with extravagant promises of utopia. If, as Deneen contends, liberalism has become a victim of its own success, it should be noted that socialism has no successes to which it can fall victim. Liberalism’s foundations may be capable of being shored up, but socialism is built on sand, and from sand. Failures, most sensible people realize, should be abandoned.

That is probably why Karl Popper advocated cautious, piecemeal reform of markets and societies because, like any other experiment, one can only accurately isolate problems and make corrections by changing one variable at a time. As Popper observed in his essay “Utopia and Violence”:

The appeal of Utopianism arises from the failure to realize that we cannot make heaven on earth. What I believe we can do instead is to make life a little less terrible and a little less unjust in each generation. A good deal can be achieved in this way. Much has been achieved in the last hundred years. More could be achieved by our own generation. There are many pressing problems which we might solve, at least partially, such as helping the weak and the sick, and those who suffer under oppression and injustice; stamping out unemployment; equalizing opportunities; and preventing international crime, such as blackmail and war instigated by men like gods, by omnipotent and omniscient leaders. All this we might achieve if only we could give up dreaming about distant ideals and fighting over our Utopian blueprints for a new world and a new man.

Losing faith in a belief system that once gave my life meaning was extremely painful. But the experience also reawakened my dormant intellectual curiosity and allowed me to think about the world anew, unencumbered by the circumscriptions of doctrine. I have met new people, read new writers and thinkers, and explored new ideas I had previously taken care to avoid. After reading an interview I had given to one of my publishers a year ago, I was forwarded an email by the poet David Chorlton. What I’d said in that interview, he wrote, “goes beyond our current disease of taking sides and inflexible non-thinking. I’m reading Havel speeches again, all in the light of the collective failure to live up to the post-communist opportunities. We’re suffering from a lack of objectivity—is that because everyone wants an identity more than a solution to problems?”

 

Clifton Ross writes occasionally for Caracas Chronicles, sporadically blogs at his website, www.cliftonross.com and sometimes even tweets @Clifross

Note:

1 Considerable confusion surrounds the definitions of “socialism” and “capitalism.” Here, I am using “socialism” to mean a system in which the state destroys the market and takes control of all capital, as well as the production and distribution of goods and services. I am using “capitalism” here to refer to a market economy in which the state, as a disinterested party, or a “referee,” sets guidelines for markets but allows private actors to own and use capital to produce and distribute goods and services.

293 Comments

  1. Ashamed of my U.S. client state government says

    I’m sure the US-promoted overthrow of the Venezuelan government and the installation of Guaido as President will greatly improve the lives of the Venezuelan people – just as such actions/attempts have done for the people in Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Syria…..

    • C Young says

      And Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Albania, East Germany, amongst others ???

      Perhaps you should Google the Holodomor before making any more idiotic claims about the benefits of communist rule in Ukraine?

      • One has to be a complete ignoramus to write such nonsense.

        Famine had been a regular part of life in the Russian Empire. Both for climatic and organization reasons.

        Collectivization solved the problem — you got one last major famine in the process, but after that there was never another one aside from the year immediately after the war, but that was for other reasons. A reasonable price to pay.

        And, of course, if someone is to blame Stalin for that, then Churchill has to be blamed for the Bengal famine in 1943, which killed about the same number of people, and was the 15th or so major famine of comparable size during British rule in India, plus there were the Irish famines, and a whole bunch of other episodes like that in various other places.

        Capitalism’s track record when it comes to ensuring food security is not exactly stellar.

        And then there is this “small” matter of it guaranteeing the mother of all famines in the not too distant future, in which many billions will die (even if it is spread out over time) as a result of capitalism’s foundational refusal to acknowledge that such a thing as laws of physics exists (admittedly, communism shared that in practice, but at least in principle it has the capacity of not making that error).

        • Angela says

          In last 50 years capitalisms track record for avoiding serious famines is almost impeccable.

        • northernobserver says

          You are lying, possibly even to yourself. What happened in the Ukraine was not an accident or a relic of Tzarist social organization, it was a deliberate choice by the central committee to raise hard currency for industrialization (machine tools, industrial finished goods) by grain export at a time when there was a calorie deficit in the USSR as a whole. Cynically, the central committee created the myth of the counter revolutionary Kulaks to justify concentrating the calorie shortage in the Ukraine and enforced it ruthlessly. Patrols were sent into the starvation zones to make sure people gave up their grain to Central.
          This is in complete contrast to the Bengal Famine which amounts to nothing more than a blood libel against the British People, a blood libel pushed and repeated by Indian Nationalists Elites to minimize the culpability of their class and in some cases their direct ancestors for contributing to the famine. Sure you can find some cute quotes from Churchill and other British officials saying some nasty things about Indians as a people, but that’s an anecdote, not evidence. It is quite amazing that western Marxists who used to be known for rigorous economic and class analysis fail to do so when it comes to the Bengal Famine and rely on Indian Nationalist opinion and feelings. Japanese occupation of Burma, German unrestricted submarine warfare, provincial tariffs between Indian provinces (controlled by Indian elites not British FYI), Indian upper class Bengali rice speculators, and the general poor integration of the Indian economy so that surpluses in one area could be fed to another area, all this contributed.
          Lose your romantic Marxist illusions and join the material and the real. Become a little more scientific.
          This video might help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAXPIhnQocM

        • James says

          Yes, I remember how the great sage Paul Erlich predicted that very famine! Still waiting.

          • >Yes, I remember how the great sage Paul Erlich predicted that very famine! Still waiting.

            It is a question of when, not if.

            To deny that is to deny the existence of such things as the laws of thermodynamics.

            Which, in a just world, should be immediately punishable by death (for example, by placing that moron in a -80C freezer — presumably if those laws do not apply to humans, nothing bad would happen to him, right?) for we cannot really afford to continue to waste precious resources on the worthless existence of such ignoramuses.

        • Johan says

          GM…If you’re not trolling, I feel truly sad for you.

        • stevengregg says

          I seem to recall that the Soviets created a man made famine in the Ukraine which killed millions. Collectivization exacerbated the problem of famine. Stalin was forced to allow private farm plots to feed his nation.

          Capitalism has done a handsome job of feeding people. I’m wondering where it has not produced the meat and crops people need in your mind.

        • Philippe says

          What did I just read? The Russian Empire was one of the largest producers and exporters of grain in the world you lunatic. Under collectivization in the Soviet Union millions had perished, in fact it hit the peasantry so hard that they couldn’t even make their ends meet like in the worst years of the war communism and the civil war. Stalin destroyed the peasantry with its great potential. He basically robbed its own people. This is why the Soviet Union faced that many famines and had to import grain from the West.

          Also it’s worth to notice how kindly you speak about the victims of the disastrous Bolshevik rule “a reasonable price to pay”. People like you are always ready to sacrifice other people’s lives. This is pathetic.

          • anthropic says

            Don’t blame the Soviet Union for the food shortages. They just suffered 70 years of bad weather!

        • Gringo says

          Capitalism’s track record when it comes to ensuring food security is not exactly stellar.
          Compare wheat production in the former Soviet Union to wheat production in Post-Soviet states. From 1980-91, wheat production in the USSR averaged 80.4 million metric tons, varying from 65 to 102 million metric tons.
          In 2017, Post Soviet states produced 142 million metric tons of wheat.
          Say no more.

          http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QC

        • If ” collectivazation solved the problem” how come the USSR had to make regular purchases of grain (mainly wheat) from my country (Canada), the USA and other capitalistic economies? And this was at a time when less than 5% of the working population in Canada and the USA were engaged in agriculture, while in the USSR the number was about 50%.

          • There are two categories of hunger, and the type defines the solutions to it.
            – Nature caused: droughts, floods, sudden plant diseases (Ireland), grasshoppers (only once per 10 yrs or so)
            – Human caused: war situations, political ones where dictator or other power disturbs production, provision or distribution.

            The holodomor of Ukraine and the hunger now in Venezuela (50% population lost kilos of weight now already) were/are of the 2nd type.

            The Birma hunger of 1940s , and the Ireland potato famine were a mixture of the two categories.

            The FAO,s main task is distribution in case of type 1 hunger/starvation, mostly succesful.
            For type 2, this solution (by FAO or others) is not so simple, generally too late, or not possible at all (Ukraine ,Venezuela).

            Production an sich is, since say 1900, no longer problematic, globally, there is always enough for any masses of hungry (so, unlike predicted in the 1970s report to Club of Rome).

        • Gringo says

          GM:
          Capitalism’s track record when it comes to ensuring food security is not exactly stellar.

          Consider long term production averages of wheat for the US versus the USSR.

          For 1961-1970, the US produced an annual average of 36.0 million metric tons of wheat
          For 1980-1991, the US produced an annual average of 63.8 million metric tons of wheat
          For 1961-1970, the USSR produced an annual average of 72.6 million metric tons of wheat
          For 1980-1991, the USSR produced an annual average of 80.4 million metric tons of wheat
          In 2017, former

          In comparing 1961-70 versus 1980-1991, the US increased wheat production 75%, whereas the former USSR increased wheat production 11%.
          In 2017, Post Soviet states produced 142 million metric tons of wheat.

          Dynamic capitalism wins out over stagnant communism. Slam dunk.
          GM informs us it worth it to kill 10 million to implement a stagnant agricultural production system like that. ¡Que bolas! 🙂

          GM:The vast majority of people are ignorant scientifically illiterate dimwits.
          Your inept defenses of Soviet agriculture policy rather prove your point, though not in the manner that you intended. 🙂

          • For 1961-1970, the US produced an annual average of 36.0 million metric tons of wheat
            For 1980-1991, the US produced an annual average of 63.8 million metric tons of wheat
            For 1961-1970, the USSR produced an annual average of 72.6 million metric tons of wheat
            For 1980-1991, the USSR produced an annual average of 80.4 million metric tons of wheat
            In 2017, former

            Did US population double in that between 1961 and 1980? No, it did increase quite a bit (and note that already at the time the goal should have been to cut it least by half relative to the 1960s levels). Then there was simply no need to increase wheat production by that much, that it was increased was an environmental calamity and a tremendous waste of resources that happened because someone saw an opportunity to make a profit (most likely through exports). It is generally the same thing with the increases in wheat production in post-Soviet Russia — today Russia is a major grain exporter, and people make major profits out of that; in Soviet times there was no perceived need to do the same.

            Which once again brings us to the crux of matter, which is that if you want to doom civilization to extinction, then by all means let the markets make the decisions — they will make sure that all decisions are made with a time horizon of a few years into the future at most and in blatant disregard of scientific understanding of the world around, based on primal animalistic human urges and nothing else.

            For the record, I am not a communist (as many of the flatbrains in this thread probably think), I just try to look at the facts objectively and from an informed scientific point of view, and nobody who does that can come to any other conclusion than that capitalism has to go away or the outcome will be lethal for all of us. That does not at all mean that Soviet-style communism is the only other option, but to reject it automatically on the basis of primitive ignorant ideological allegiances and outright stupidity (check the case of the cretin somewhere else in the thread who claimed that Stalin killed 60 million people for an illustration — if Stalin had indeed done so, that would have meant killing 1 out of 3 people in the whole USSR for its population was 180 million in 1950; the absurdity of such a statement should be immediately obvious yet it never crossed his mind to pause and think whether the numbers make sense). What the Soviets did right, and they did a lot of things right, should be studied and copied. That is how rational people operate.

        • ivan denisovich says

          Comrade, I suggest you study Soviet and Russian history and not the manuals of the CPUSSR. Hmm, Ukrainian/South Russian famine in 1931 – 1932: Perhaps you have a slight different way of counting the years. That was before the war. You might have forgotten that after 1947 the Soviet state avoided famine by importing grain from capitalist countries as they were not able to produce enough due to collectivisation (a great joy of US, Australian and Argentine farmers). And yes, I come from Eastern part of Europe (not Russia), I can tell the difference between collective (socialist) and private (capitalist) farming from first hand experience. There was nothing to eat before and now we have to eat. So if you come from US Academia then just shut up

          • About this increase of grain production: the last 50 yrs, global population doubled, but meat production = 5x as high, meaning a tremendous extra need of cereals(mainly for chicken and pork, and some for feedlots of cattle) and fertilized grass or fodder. This tendency is going on and on, mainly due to increase of incomes in China, India and Latin America (and even some in Africa). Thus, disproportional increases of extra cereals needed. Where shall this end?

        • Dr Damian P.O'Connor says

          Do you really believe that? I feel sorry for you if you do.

        • No sharia says

          You NEED to read “The Red Famine” by Anne Applebaum….

      • Ashamed of my U.S. client state government says

        It is an established fact that the US spent $5 billion destabilising the democratically elected government of Ukraine. You may not have liked them, but elected they were, and they were overthrown. Since then you have had civil war and the seizure of Crimea. Such wonderful outcomes for Ukraine!

        So now, having destabilised the Middle East, the US wants to have yet another attempt at installing a client regime in Venezuela – purportedly the nation with the world’s largest oil resources. I am sure the US only has its love of democracy and the best interests of the Venezuelan people in mind!

      • Wife of Sinbad says

        Ah, but when you’re soaked in ideology your brains are addled to the extent that you cannot see an alternative.

      • Darko V says

        Correct. The best people to ask about the benefits of communism are those who lived under its oppression and are now free. Prime examples are the Baltic States, Ask any Estonian how wonderfully the USSR benefited their society. Better still, ask any ethnic Russian living in the Baltic States why they haven’t moved back to Russia when they are now perfectly free to do so.

    • And of Libya ??, also a country with a benevolent despot with lots and lots of oil-money, to handout among the poor.

    • Angela says

      Even a move to a corrupt capitalist goverment is a vast improvement over the current system. Also comparing the purely political pressure being put on Maduro to Libya much less Iraq is absursd. The man vying for power is an elected leader of the National Assembly. Hes not some random strongman the west is installing. Also theres not the hugely confounding variable of radical Islam in the mix here.

    • Johan says

      You are racist. You don’t hold people responsible for their dysfunctional countries.
      Germany and Japan 1945 comes to mind…

      • Wife of Sinbad says

        Great comment!! Yes, playing the racist card is actually done BY RACISTS.

    • Richard Dale says

      There is no US-promoted overthrow. There is an internal counter-revolution, opposing the overthrow of constitutional government by Chavez/Maduro.

      Note, when you start out with a lie, no less the reverse of the truth, we all know that not only are you wrong but we know that you know you are wrong, because you chose to lie to support your point.

    • I left Cuba when I was 14 years old, after living in communist Cuba, and learning that Marxism was both an idiotic and criminal idea. Years later, I spent time in Russia, and moved to Venezuela just after Chavez took office in 1999. I spent over a decade watching Chavez destroy Venezuela from the inside, and had the opportunity to see him do his rock star appearances and long boring speeches (which required incredible bladder control on my part).

      I have to confess I have zero sympathy for the author, because Chavez displayed his cruelty and corrupt nature very early in his rule, in cases such as the Judge Lourdes Afiuni arrest, repeated rapes while in jail, and the endless abuses she suffered because Chavez, angered because she dared follow the law, asked for her to be punished on National TV.

      I am tired of these Marxist Mengeles who continue to experiment with us as if we were laboratory rats. And I will never forgive. I’m signing this with my name. I’m old, and I need to make sure you understand that in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other nations we are dealing with pure evil. And that nobody is safe. They are fully capable of taking over the US and destroying humanity.

      • cmcrawford says

        I was blind once sadly the only victim was my poor kid who was in a “democratic” school. As other moms and dads pulled their kids out I wondered why they were overreacting. I only figured it out when my kid was inforgivably attacked for disagreeing with the dictator of the school. Once gripped by an idea it’s very hard to let it go. I appreciate the author’s story but thank you also for your point of view.

      • El Uro says

        I’m from former USSR. Only a good commie is a dead commie.

      • Mike van Lammeren says

        Good for you! Thank you for your testimony.

      • Gringo says

        I have to confess I have zero sympathy for the author, because Chavez displayed his cruelty and corrupt nature very early in his rule, in cases such as the Judge Lourdes Afiuni arrest/

        The regime arrested her in 2009.Detention of Maria Lourdes Afiuni.

        I quote here from what Mr. Ross wrote.

        After the year I spent living in Venezuela (2005-2006), I returned as frequently as my schedule would allow, sometimes twice a year.

        Clifton Ross lived in Venezuela from 2005-2006, and after that time returned “sometimes twice a year.

        Between 2008 and 2011, however, I became preoccupied with traveling across Latin America and conducting interviews with social movement activists for a book entitled Until the Rulers Obey that would be published in 2014. During that time, I was forced to become a “generalist” and didn’t have much time available to keep a close eye on what was happening in Venezuela.

        From 2008-2011- the time when Judge Lourdes Afiuni was arrested and jailed- Mr. Ross didn’t spend much time in Venezuela- nor much time paying attention to Venezuela when he was out of the country

        Nevertheless, from people who were watching, and from what I saw on my two visits there in 2011, I gathered that the situation was taking a bad turn. As even supporters were pointing out a few years later, by 2007 only about 15 percent of the 184,000 remaining cooperatives were active. If the distinction between earlier socialism and the Bolivarian version was that in the latter the “ownership and control of the means of production must be collective and democratic,” the new version wasn’t faring well at all.

        It would appear to me that the Judge’s detention occurred when he wasn’t paying much attention to Venezuela.He eventually wised up. Recall that in 2011, Chavistas and PSF (Pendejos sin Fronteras) were informing us what great things Chavez was doing with $100 oil- when any detailed perusal of pertinent data would show those “accomplishments” to be basically smoke and mirrors. But by 2011, Clifton Ross was beginning to wise up, I would cut Mr. Ross some slack.

        I didn’t become aware of the harm Chavez was doing until 2004, when I worked with several Venezuelans.

      • Jean-Pierre Rupp says

        I was born and raised in Venezuela. I was 17 when Chávez was elected. I knew exactly what was going on and where it was headed already then. You didin’t need to be a genius. I warned as many as I could, as eloquently as I could, until I left in 2008 tired of the Marxist elite and their entourage of opportunistic parasites who kept them in power until this day, to ruinous end.

        My fellow Venezuelans reading this know full well what about the widespread culture of corruption and opportunism that is like a cancer in that place, where virtually everybody is looking for their “tetica” (“tit“, the local euphemism for a source of ill-gotten funds). They helped placed and cement Chávez’s power, and then Maduro’s. Having the crazy Marxists running the asylum allowed them to “pescar en río revuelto” (“fish in muddy rivers”, or dealing in corruption under chaos, which is easier). A very large proportion of the population was corrupt or easily corruptible, and probably still is.

        I don’t know how Venezuelans can learn to become more ethical in their behaviour. This is needed for transitioning to Western values, reaching sustained progress and stability, and for rebuilding the place. If the widespread opportunism is still rampant after the current transition, Venezuela won’t be able to rebound. It’ll just become a post-Marxist kleptocracy.

    • Jarlath says

      It’s Russia that meddled in Ukraine because they didn’t like the EU courting it. The US did not want Ayatollah Khomeini to be installed supreme leader in Iran, Syria is a concoction of mixed interests involving the US, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia.

      So I’ll give you Libya (which was an allied coalition blunder) and Iraq.

    • Elsie says

      Guaido isn’t being installed as president, he simply BECAME president as the constitution required of the head of the national assembly

    • Song For the Deaf says

      We can’t do any worse with it than the commies did.

    • Rick V says

      It’s not an overthrow nor is it a coup!!! Read the goddam venezuelan constitution!!! Check the voters participation in venezuela’s last sham election; look up how many leaders of the opposition participated and how many were in prison; or the demonstrations that occur prior to it. Check in the venezuelan constitution what a constituent national assembly is and explain to me with what legitimacy did that overthrow the national assembly who was voted by Venezuelans.
      If you hate the usa fine!! But can abstain yourself for making illinform claims about Venezuela’s political situation when you barely know anything about it.

  2. C Young says

    > Losing faith in a belief system that once gave my life meaning was extremely painful

    You chose truth over tribe. Congratulations on passing the test.

    Changing your mind gives your life new foundations.

    By contrast, holding on to an ideology you secretly know to be discredited, is death. Its your old friends, still willingly trapped in the lie we should worry over.

    • Angela says

      It’s only because he left academia and went out and saw the real world application of idealogies pushed by comfortable western academics.

    • Michael Greenberg says

      “Progress and reform can seem maddeningly sluggish under such circumstances, particularly when attempting to redress grave injustice or to meet slow-moving existential threats like climate change”

      He hasn’t changed his mind. He’s still a naif.

  3. Im curious about that Andrean Merida. I once passed a station of Merida by train, somewhere in West Spain, and I passed by car through the Mexican Merida on a trip to Maya-land, but an Andrean Merida? What can that be?
    Also interesting to read one of those Saul Paul conversions. Again I wonder, how can one fall from one extreme into the other?
    Firm and activist believer in one, and all of a sudden ( by flash??) in the other system? And no in-between area. Mostly originates from the realm of the religious world, I guess. Everything or nothing!

      • Thanks reyabreu, and that whereas I even have worked for some years in the Andean foothills, in Peru though, shame on me!

    • lila1jpw says

      This Saul/Paul conversion is explicated quite fully in a small book called “The True Believer.” It was written by a Californian longshoreman by the name of Eric Hoffer. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer]

      • Thanks Lila, I’m going after it, because, I think, could help me in understanding the fierce and merciless debating (better self presentations) on Quillette! Mercy is always with the ones of your own group, and not at all (they deserve the cursing)of the enemy. I still, silently, hope for Angela’s answer on this.

        • TarsTarkas says

          Read The True Believer and other books by Eric Hoffer. He was not an academic, he was a manual laborer most of his life, and came to philosophy and the problem of governance from a very different direction than most intellectuals, that from the application side.

          I always find it interesting that the apologists for Chavezism and other flavors of Socialism/Marxism don’t or refuse to understand that a system of governance that requires having the right system AND the right people in charge for it to work properly is far too fragile to survive the rough and tumble of actual reality. And few or none of them ever personally actually experience the what happens when once again the utopian edifice collapses.

          • Thanks, Lila and Tars, I read about his explication in Wikipedia, it seems, the fanatism and, sometimes even, conversion is due to unhappiness with the present situation, resentment with the people and atmosphere around. This week, one of our senators, one time fierce adversary of the islam, and of immigration, has become an islamist himself (and he was not even the first of his anti-islam party). Curious fact, but not so after reading Eric Hoffer’s booklet. But something I don’t recognize in myself, very strange indeed, but, again also here, human all too human, it seems!

  4. ga gamba says

    This was a good read, so well done to you, Mr Ross.

    The “synoptic delusion”—the belief that any small group of people could hold and manage all the information spread out over millions of actors in a market economy—Kornai argued, leads the nomenklatura to make disastrous decisions that disrupt production and distribution. Attempts to “correct” these errors only exacerbate the problems for the same reasons, leading to a whole series of disasters that result, at last, in a completely dysfunctional economy, and then gulags, torture chambers, and mass executions as the nomenklatura hunt for “saboteurs” and scapegoats.

    How much more evidence does one demand? It confounds me that there are those who still assert socialism will get it right this time. They’d have about as much luck in controlling the weather.

    Those rightly celebrated checks and balances on each branch of the government to amend or veto acts of another branch so as to prevent any one branch from exerting too much power are also damn useful in the economy. The free enterprise market system best assures this. Consumers check the companies by awarding and withholding their purchases. Companies check each other by product/service innovation and competitive pricing. The gov’t checks the companies by regulation and on behalf of the taxpayer it hires companies to build and maintain the infrastructure. When the government expropriates the companies these checks are rubbished and the imbalance of corruption ensures.

    Losing faith in a belief system that once gave my life meaning was extremely painful.

    Congratulations on purging magical thinking from your mind and getting well.

    • How much more evidence does one demand? It confounds me that there are those who still assert socialism will get it right this time. They’d have about as much luck in controlling the weather.

      A planned economy as implemented in the past has serious problems, that is correct, but that does not mean the idea is bad to begin with. The technology to implemented it did not exist back then, but it does now. What do you think the major tech companies are running internally?

      We do now have the technical capacity to work out a non-capitalist economy that does not suffer from the problems of the Soviet planned economy.

      Of course, this would only make a difference if it is combined with the two absolutely necessary conditions for the continued existence of advanced civilization on this planet (reduction of population by an order of magnitude and an immediate transition to a steady-state economy), and that is not happening either.

      • ga gamba says

        We do now have the technical capacity to work out a non-capitalist economy that does not suffer from the problems of the Soviet planned economy.

        Prove it. Establish a planned non-capitalist economy of 50k to 100k people who volunteer for such an experiment. I reckon finding volunteers won’t be hard to find – there are plenty of moochers in the world. Use your talents and labour to build your structures, plough your fields, blast your furnaces, and do all the other things needed.

        What do you think the major tech companies are running internally?

        You’re mistaking a closed system, such as a company, one that still relies on countless inputs outside its control for its survival, for an open and dynamic economy.

        • ga gamba says

          Better still, take those systems running the major tech companies to Venezuela and implement them. They’re proved, right? Ought to be a cinch.

          You’ll be the saviour of the revolution.

          • Just follow the financial/tech news about those company “closed systems”, and you will see that they are in a constant state of flux in seeking to adjust to forces they cannot fully comprehend/control, both internally and externally, no matter how much managerial “expertise” (or even AI for that matter) they apply. The top dogs, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet/Google are constantly reacting by destroying and re-creating themselves in response.

            It won’t scale up because it is not stable at the current scale, and is not dealing with nearly all components of the full-scale real economy.

        • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

          @ga gamba

          In the spirit of Devil’s advocacy one might claim that China has a ‘planned capitalist’ sort of economy and we will not disagree that whatever you name it, China has done the impossible.

          • ga gamba says

            Ray, I typed a nice reply, hit submit, the connection was reset, and the comment lost. Argh.

            China cultivates the illusion of a capitalist system to dupe Westerners. It’s writing its own playbook. Really, it’s an export-oriented National Corporatist-Illusionist system. About 185,000 corporations are SEOs run by CPC cadres. They’re not Red Book waving zealots; they’ve studied modern management, but they are to serve the Party whilst allowed to acquire the material rewards if successful. Just about every sector of strategic importance is dominated by a SEO. Where they don’t dominate, the CPC still relies on minor shareholdings as well as its control of the state-owned banks, state-owned logistics systems, and other means of suasion. Even the one national labour union answers to the CPC, so a company that gets out of line may find itself with labour troubles. The state is a like a python ready and able to smother companies that don’t comply.

            The CPC is a closed system. China too is a closed system, though less so than the Party. The openness it allows was to form the foundation of the OEM/OED export development model to quickly absorb Western technical know-how, acquire wealth, develop China, and then capture outside companies and markets. The model was copied from S. Korea, which itself took from Japan. It repeated what was proved possible and refined it to meet the CPC’s needs. For this model to be successful requires Western nations to allow themselves to be inundated with Chinese-made goods whilst not pressuring China too vigorously to liberalise.

            Now, a reader may wonder what I mean by Illusionist. The CPC has long played a game of ostensibly allowing other voices to exist. For example, China is a multi-party state; eight parties have seats in the National People’s Congress – one of them is headquartered in the US. But all these parties are flunkies, meekly following the CPC’s diktats. Why would these parties exist? What role do they perform other than to create a fiction. Another example, China allows religious freedom. Yet, it really doesn’t. All the religious leaders are under the control of the CPC, and the Party has proved itself willing to kidnap religious leaders such as the Panchen Lama to ensure obedience to it. The CPC makes a big show of embracing and celebrating ethnic minorities, yet they too are enveloped by the Party. “Peaceful Rise”? An illusion. For centuries the West has been bewitched by the talents and treasures of China, and knowing this allure the CPC has long held out its market’s potential – to be liberalised at some unknown future time, likely after the Chinese have purchased the companies they want – to gain Western corporate subservience.

          • ga gamba says

            And SEO above is a typo. SOE – state-owned enterprise.

          • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

            @ga gamba

            Thanks for the summary of the Chinese situation. I’m not in a position to disagree except that I don’t believe that much is to be gained by quibbles over definitions. IOW, I don’t care if what the Chinese do can be exactly, perfectly be called capitalism, it’s close enough to capitalism (huge amounts of capital being thrown around) that I call it capitalism, and of course the fact that much/most of what goes on there is ‘planned’ is not disputed.

            Being you are the smart guy that you are, I think this sort of issue is important. I myself call a spade a fucking shovel (as the saying goes). You can call it anything you want, but please muck-out the stables, and if you find the tool useful, use it. Too much definitionism going on if you ask me. Is the Left ‘really’ the left? Is Stalinism ‘really’ communism? Is Denmark ‘really’ socialist? Somehow the question ends up as a distraction. It adds confusion, not clarity. What I see in China seems to me to demonstrate that the state can quite usefully engage in some level of planning in an economy that seems to be close enough to capitalism to warrant that label.

          • ga gamba says

            @ Ray

            I myself call a spade a fucking shovel (as the saying goes). You can call it anything you want, but please muck-out the stables, and if you find the tool useful, use it. Too much definitionism going on if you ask me.

            Fair point. What if the muck to be cleared out is lung disease? Do I treat it using antibiotics, corticosteroids, or chemotherapy? Or, why not all three treatments concurrently? Depends whether that lung disease is TB, asthma, or lung cancer, doesn’t it? The analysis and understanding of the muck’s nature leads to it being matched to the most accurate definition and resulting in an appropriate course of action.

            You know what I dislike about Christianity? Its worship of 9-headed elephants.

            Does this strike you accurate? Oh, seems more like Hinduism, but still inaccurate because Ganesha has one only one head… and four arms. Well, one religion or the other, what’s the difference? They all do the same thing.

            I reckon if I brought together knowledgeable Hindus and Catholics they’d quickly tell me what’s the difference and far more substantively than what icons are standing in their houses of worship.

            I wouldn’t call myself a language proscriptivist, yet I find value in as precise use of language as possible and meaningful definitions. If socialism means capitalism and capitalism means socialism, then what use are the words? I recognise most if not all of the capitalist world are mixed economies, yet to the degree they are mixed is important and it’s worth understanding how they differ. If I want to implement a national health service in the US, does this require I impose socialism where the means of production at Ford, Apple, Exxon, KFC, Hank’s Hardware, and every other business are seized by labour? No.

            Yes, I understand it may be laborious to examine and to define many things. Some of the problem is that people keep using words inaccurately, deliberately or not, which requires people to first define their terms.

            The state operating some services is not socialism. If operating some services is all it takes to attain socialism, then the Roman Empire was socialist because it built roads and aqueducts. And so to was Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, and Hitler’s Germany. Their states operated services.

            States, be they fascist, socialist, or somewhere in between operate services. At the very least I’m giving Marx his due by recognising his utopian vision was more than socialist snowploughs clearing proletariate pavement.

        • TarsTarkas says

          It all boils down to ‘who decides’. When the ultimate decider f**ks up due to bias or lack of knowledge or just plain orneriness, like Stalin and Mao and every other tyrant who likes the color red, the human cost is immeasurable (though rarely suffered by the deciders). When there is no check on absolute power, catastrophe follows inevitably.

      • stevengregg says

        Well, socialist regimes are very good at reducing their populations, so you got that going for you.

        • Touché!! You got that right, either by starvation or flight, but if they have the power they don’t allow flight, so you are left with option A.

          My guess is GM is a professor of some kind of “Studies”….

      • Defenstrator says

        I don’t know why you’re defeatist. I give everyone who wants rapid depopulation the same advice. Lead by example.

      • X. Citoyen says

        GM says,

        The technology to implemented it did not exist back then, but it does now. What do you think the major tech companies are running internally?

        No such technology does or can exist. The reason has been known for almost a hundred years, and it has been empirically proved again, again, and again by the failure of each new socialist economy. It’s called the economic calculation problem (see, e.g., the Wikipedia entry). In free markets, prices are the information system for all factors in the economy. Prices represent millions, billions, or trillions of calculations and recalculations being continuously made by buyers and sellers in the market.

        No one and no thing—not AI, not quantum computing, nothing—can collect and process all the information contained in prices because no one even knows what all the information is. Because socialist economies have no price mechanism and there is no finite set of all information needed to determine prices, socialist economies suffer over- and under-production problems that cascade throughout the system until it completely breaks down. Again, there is no solution to this problem.

        You don’t appreciate the irony of pointing to corporations. Yes, corporations do plan their activities. But their plans rarely work out as predicted. Often they lose money, and they all go out of business in the long. As is often been pointed out, entrepreneurs are, strictly speaking, irrational, because the vast majority of businesses—read business plans—don’t work out.

        One final thing. Most of the arguments against socialism—especially the historical ones—leave the tiniest gap through which the True Believer can cram all his hopes. They tell themselves it was really the leadership or that events moved to quickly or that economic conditions weren’t favourable or that the culture of the people wasn’t sufficiently ripe for revolution and so on. None of that matters. Even under perfect conditions with perfect people, there is no way to solve the economic calculation problem—it is to socialism what the second law of thermodynamics is to the perpetual motion machine.

        • No one and no thing—not AI, not quantum computing, nothing—can collect and process all the information contained in prices because no one even knows what all the information is

          I mentioned something about small-minded thinking elsewhere.

          Nobody here is talking about capturing the “information contained in prices”.

          Fundamentally it is a lunacy to rely on prices to guide your decision making, try to get it in your thick skulls.

          Take oil as a classic example.

          The supply of oil has been going down since the moment the first oil well was drilled (and in fact it would be going down even if no wells were being drilled because of natural oil seeps) because there have been no large-scale anoxic events in the recent past (though it looks like we might be about to get one soon).

          If the market were rational, the price of oil should have been increasing monotonically over time because the supply has been going up and demand is quite inelastic.

          Is this what we see? No, we see huge volatility. Because markets and prices are extremely stupid and incapable of seeing further than a few months into the future.

          The idea is to have humans living in civilized state thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, etc. years into the future, i.e. long beyond the next quarterly report. “Markets” and “prices” do not think on such time scales

          • X. Citoyen says

            Nobody here is talking about capturing the “information contained in prices”.

            You are talking about the information in prices. You just don’t realize it because you have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t even know how socialist/command economies work. Allow me to help you out: The conjectures, guesses, and wishful thinking in the socialist’s five-year plan take the place of the information in prices in free markets. You can’t plan without information.

            If the market were rational…

            This time you exposed your ignorance before you finished the sentence. Free markets aren’t rational. Rationality requires a reasoner the way planning needs a planner. There’s no planner in free markets, only in socialist economies. Socialists aren’t rational planners either; they’re sciolists, people who’ve deluded themselves into believing they have knowledge.

            …the price of oil should have been increasing monotonically over time because the supply has been going up and demand is quite inelastic.

            I suppose when you first read this claim the word “monotonically” so impressed you that thought the claim must be true, and you’ve been repeating it to your fellow teenie-boppers ever since. The price of oil is what suppliers are willing to accept and buyers are willing to pay. No one knew how much oil existed when people started drilling it, and no one knows now. And the market is smarter than you are. Buyers and sellers long ago realized (1) that predictions about the total amount of oil have always been disproven and (2) that oil could be replaced tomorrow by something else. This is how people operate in the real world.

            Because markets and prices are extremely stupid and incapable of seeing further than a few months into the future.

            No one can. And socialist economies can’t even see that far ahead. Chavez didn’t predict the economic crash that killed the price of oil, and starved his people. Yet free market countries felt next to nothing. Who the better planners are is obvious.

          • >>The supply of oil has been going down since the moment the first oil well was drilled 

            Good lord, that’s ridiculous. The supply of oil continues to rise as more and more is discovered in vast, nearly inexhaustible quantities, in places nobody ever expected, all over the globe. The gas in the tank of that short bus that picks you up each day perhaps came from a shale field in North Dakota, where nobody had any idea oil existed until a few years ago, and definitely was not part of the oil supply in 1900.

            >>If the market were rational, the price of oil should have been increasing monotonically over time because the supply has been going up and demand is quite inelastic.

            Stop. Just stop before you hurt yourself. Economics isn’t for everybody. You’ll find something else.

          • X.Citoyen

            Thanks for providing the whip.

            In the Vedas, consciousness (or intelligence or awareness) consists of a relationship between thinking and doing. Those whose doing is disconnected from thinking we call Stupid. Those whose thinking is disconnected from doing we call Intellectuals.

          • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

            @GM

            As always we end up with two narratives bashing away at each other, and both narratives can be quite accurate in pointing out what is wrong with the other. I say that the pot and the kettle are both black but both are good to have. Economic/social/political sanity involves abandoning all faith in all narratives as having The Answer. Lets look at all the various mechanisms and vectors honestly. Capitalism automatically ‘calculates’ that’s true, but it also produces grossly wrong answers all the time. As you say, the price of oil is anything but some ‘calculated’, ideal answer, it can be based on panic, speculation, manipulation, fake news, bad predictions, and so on. Am I anti-market? Nope, the market does all sorts of good things, so does capitalism, but they both also do all sorts of really stupid things. Socialist planning can do some really stupid things too. But where I live, we get all our electricity from dams that were planned and built by the government. The government that did the planning was a rather ‘free market’ sort of outfit, but it understood that it was better if the province’s power system was publicly owned, planned, built and managed — and so it is. They tried to privatize the power grid in the States, remember? The result was chaos as boys in red suspenders had fun maximizing their profits.

          • Good lord, that’s ridiculous. The supply of oil continues to rise as more and more is discovered in vast, nearly inexhaustible quantities, in places nobody ever expected, all over the globe

            One has to young earth creationist-level scientifically ignorant to say such a stupid thing.

            There is basically no new oil formation on Earth at the moment, so the quantity of oil that was in the ground before we started drilling was fixed (and in fact slowly declining due to natural oil seeps). Therefore every barrel that comes out of the ground means a barrel less oil left.

            Only outright denial of the most basic laws of physics can lead one to claim otherwise…

        • D.B. Cooper says

          @X. Citoyen

          Well done. Also, thank you for saving me the time.

        • Another socialist flaw is the consolidation of absolute power. It’s never the benevolent dictator or centralized government that acquires the power, it’s the malevolent one. And if it’s ever the case that a benevolent power does rule a socialist government, it will either degrade into malevolence or be taken over by a more ambitious malevolent force.

          • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

            @Mark

            On the other hand we have Enron and Goldman and other such benevolences.

      • Jason says

        Even if one day true, who the hell would want to live like that? And who decides who may do and earn what?

        That’s as pure a definition of hell as I can imagine. Every man penned and pigeonholed.

        And *of course* there would be no abuse by those in power.

      • I believe the Chinese Communist Party has the same idea in mind, but with a twist. They plan to use a capitalist economy guided by central planning, with a single party controlling society via an advanced monitoring and repression system. The combination of technology and the availability of a tamed slave population would allow them to control the planet and install the great fascist empire they are planning.

        I believe the only difference between you and the Chinese nomenklatura is your insistence in using obsolete and failed Marxist ideology. But the other points are pretty much the same.

      • Gringo says

        We do now have the technical capacity to work out a non-capitalist economy that does not suffer from the problems of the Soviet planned economy.
        And for the proof, we have “21st Century Socialism” in Venezuela. 🙂

      • Stephanie says

        @GM, it is pure arrogance to think that you can make better choices for people than they can make for themselves. There is no algorithm that has been shown to predict human behaviour, and even if there were, what would be the purpose of making decisions for people that they could make for themselves?

        It isn’t a matter of technology, it is a matter of ethics. People have the right to be free to make their own decisions. Capitalism is simply the ever-changing collection of people’s free choices. Planned economies take away those choices, and concentrate it in the hands of a few, a system that inevitably leads to corruption. It is a bad idea, full stop.

        • GM, it is pure arrogance to think that you can make better choices for people than they can make for themselves

          The vast majority of people are ignorant scientifically illiterate dimwits. Objective fact of life.

          If they weren’t, civilization would not be facing imminent and inevitable collapse, as it is right now.

          So of course the very few people who are not should be the ones making the decisions for everyone else. The problem is how to identify those people and how to create structures of power that allow that. And to that problem there is no obvious solution, that is correct.

          But that does not mean we should just let people freely wreck everything with their stupidity.

          • GM has written (a bit clumsily) some simple truths about the “vast majority of people” and our ‘imminent and inevitable collapse”. His main error is in saying that intelligent educated people should be making decisions for the rest of us. He does admit that how to create “structures of power that allow that” is the crux of the matter. How can we reconcile democracy in a system where ignoramuses and manipulators have the same rights? What kind of structures or institutions are the most likely to prevent abuse of power? In this blog nearly everyone seems to think that free market capitalism is the best equipped to do that. Compared to socialism I would agree. But commenters here are breezing past the basic truth: we do not have a real free market to begin with; worse, we have “socialism for the rich” in the form of government subsidies, tax breaks, etc. And we have other anti-free market forces: collusion, bribery,
            price fixing, monopolies, outsourcing, union-crushing, and tragically inadequate environmental and health regulation due to lobbying of the same special interests who get
            government benefits (which are not just large corporations but small farmers who decry socialism but welcome government subsidies, and nuclear utilities whose dangerous ventures raked in tens of billions of dollars of subsidies, including accident insurance, for decades). I have yet to see any libertarian or free marketeer fighting against all of these
            socialist policies. Consequently I take all of these attacks on socialism with a grain of salt.
            In addition, it is significant that it is the right wing and defenders of capitalism who are denying the global crisis of climate change and other such crises such as loss of biodiversity, destruction of the oceans, extinction of insects, etc. These deniers have not interest in science. They want to promote their ideology. It is as simple as that. Socialism is just the straw man they have invented as an excuse to bash the left. The right is no less selfish and
            fanatically ideological and biased than the left. Unfortunately the missteps and delusions of the left give the right plenty of ammunition. In the end everyone is distracted from the real issues and an honest discussion. The same is true of the commenters on this site. Bashing the left and socialism is just letting off steam. It’s a substitute for reasoned thinking and
            scientific education. Without them public debates are pointless.

          • Stephanie says

            @GM, no one needs any scientific understanding whatsoever to know what they personally want and need. Everyone is capable of acting in their own best interest, and that is all that is required to make the capitalist system work.

            Besides, the technocratic autocracy you suggest would inevitably fail. Let’s say we scoured the country’s universities for the most intelligent, and concentrated all power in their hands. Would that be sufficient to predict the future? Could you reasonably expect they could anticipate everyone’s needs in sufficient detail to plan the economy? Could it be possible for such powerful people, untethered from the democratic system, to not become corrupt? Even if they could, could such pure-hearted people survive against more ruthless people who would inevitably seek to wrestle power away from them?

            Your economic model requires an omniscient, all-powerful paragon of virtue. It’s like you expect Jesus or Buddha to come back as a Marxist revolutionary.

            You are clearly craving a Higher Being in your life: may I suggest you fill that hole in the religious sphere, instead of confusing that religious impulse with economic or political instinct.

      • Henrik says

        A centralized economy is exactly what leads to dictatorship and failure. A small group of people dictating every aspect of an economy is by definition autocratic. It has nothing to do with technology, the whole theory is wrong. It is impossible to determine correctly a price for a product when collectivization determines an arbitrary price.
        Also, you fail consistently to atribute responsability to the real agents of misery. In your view Assad is not to blame for the misery of their own people, or Gaddafi, or Chavéz, or Hussein. No. You choose always to blame an external cause. Because by painting them as victims of capitalism one can always find ways to continue being blindly faithful to the marxist religion.

      • Constantin says

        GM – you make a severe mistake believing that computation power will mitigate the disaster of a planned economy. You fail to understand that the biggest problem is lack of input. You can have all the computation power in the world, but if you feed in garbage you get just an error message. How do you propose reducing the population by one order of magnitude? Are nukes involved in your vision? As to “an immediate transition to a state economy” you still have your chance in North Korea. Go!

    • Craig WIllms says

      @ga gamba

      I echo your thoughts. How many die-hard radical socialist and communists that have has their eyes opened will it take to end this romantic notion that there is a socialist utopia to be had?

      Yet here in the United States the only growing political movement is radical socialism. This during a time of stupendous economic prosperity and record low unemployment under a hated pro-capitalist president.

      The optics and the reality of the money men (and shady government leaders) siphoning off obscene riches is likely the cause of the discontent and dream for something better. I get that, I really do. But radical socialism never works and always produces profound human misery.

      Next idea please…

      • antonio says

        I would also add that one of the features of capitalism is that companies do fail. They are error prone, they niscalculate. But they will be instantly replaced by those companies that happened to get it right. there isnt a single point of failure.

        Also no single organisation needs to predict everything. You want to open the restaurant? Fine, no need to assess how much food in total is needed in the country, if your restaurant proves to be unnecessary it will just fail, there’s a constant adjustment

      • Even if the siphoning didn’t take place, people are not motivated to produce because there is no incentive. Like they used to say in the Soviet union, we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us.

    • lila1jpw says

      So sorry that the free enterprise market system has so few checks and balances since the rise of the multi-national corporation!

      • TarsTarkas says

        The free enterprise market system still has plenty of economic checks and balances, you just may not be aware of them. Go into a grocery store and see the tremendous variety of foodstuffs that are available, and how many different brands there are. Bernie Sanders and people of similar opinion would consider such a surfeit of choice a waste of precious resources; everyone (and most especially the world! Think of the children! And AGW!) would be so much better off if the brands for each product were limited to a reasonable number. Like one.

        The problem of the multinationals is that they are consciously or unconsciously trying to turn the FEMS into a fascist type economy, only with them controlling the government and using its mechanisms to suppress competition instead of the other way around. Crony capitalism must fought at every turn, or the end result will be another flavor of Venezuela.

        If the FAANGs went out of business tomorrow within a few short months they and their production would be replaced by something similar, much of it coming from existing firms that compete with the FAANG. The economy would hiccup, maybe even go into a recession, but it would continue. Whereas in fascist/marxist economies, where the state owns or controls the means of productions, if a comparable collection of FAANGS went down, there would be no way to easily or quickly replace them because the competition had been suppressed, and again, Venezuela.

  5. Mike Walsh says

    I wish you well on your intellectual journey, but when you say things like “the Arab Spring swept Gaddafi from power” I can only wonder: are you insane? Turning Libya from a nasty dictatorship into a worse failed state was one of many disastrous achievements of the Obama administration. And the “Arab Spring” was a neocon lie promoted by gullible journalists. If the shoe fits . . .

    • I’m pretty sure Ross would agree with all that. I read that passage as a short way of disposing of an event that was both peripheral to his main argument and well outside his field of person knowledge and experience; which is socialism in South and Central America.

  6. It is an easily verifiable empirical fact that Stalin took a backwards peasant society and turned it into a nuclear-armed industrial superpower that was about to be the first to conquer space by the time of his death, all within three decades and while suffering the largest wartime devastation the world has ever seen in the middle of it all. Also, food security was ensured in the process too — there is this extremely intellectually lazy habit of bringing up the 1930s famine and using it as a tool to discredit collectivization without realizing that collectivization actually worked out very well as nobody in the Soviet Union ever starved after the post-war famine, whereas famines had been a routine occurrence prior to Soviet rule; it solved the problem it was intended to solve.

    So clearly communism can work very well if properly implemented. But usually it isn’t — keep in mind how effective Stalin was in eliminating corruption, and how the system rotted from within after him precisely because the mechanisms he instituted to do so were dismantled.

    Venezuela is a case of a mostly non-socialist system that inherited all sorts of deep structural problems from its purely capitalist past that did not do much to address the corruption problem and that, on top of it all, is under constant attack from the outside. No wonder it has failed. Calling it “socialism” is done because it is convenient to use it as an example to discredit the idea of socialism.

    P.S. To anyone bringing up the failures of the Venezuelan state to provide food and security to its people, pause for a second to think about what would happen to countries like the US, the UK, South Korea, and many others if food and/or oil imports into them were to stop for some reason, then reflect on the implications of that for how you see the “successes” of capitalism in those countries.

    • You are spoiling the whole fun of Quillette here, GM, with your paraphrasing about the positive of of totalitarianism!

    • Angela says

      If you wanna go down that route than Hitler was a great leader due to the German economic miracle following the rise of Nazism. Personally I’m not going to excuse barbarians just because they had some short lived positives for their countries.

    • reyabreu says

      I wonder if your own immediate family (spouse, parents, children) or yourself were amongst the killed, starved, tortured or imprisoned in the Gulags, you’d still be praising one of the most prolific murderers in history and the few ephemeral benefits of his rule. It’s amazing the stretches people will go when they have absolutely no skin in the game.

      • and the few ephemeral benefits of his rule.

        See, this is one of the biggest problems with humanity — the bulk of it is so small-minded that it is completely incapable of thinking on any meaningful scale. Something that you just demonstrated.

        First, the death of any arbitrary large number of humans is of absolutely no consequence as long as the species as a whole survives. Let’s get that straight.

        The death of millions is indeed merely a statistic in the grand context of history. Only people with overtly inflated sense of their own importance fail to understand that.

        Second, the (very real) improvements to the material lives of Soviet people were also not that significant on their own.

        Much more important for them in the long run was that the country survived as an independent united whole. Until the next two generations almost ruined it all, that is, but still, it could have been much much worse and there may well not have been Russia at all now had it not been for Stalin.

        And more important than even that was the role Stalin played in spoiling the plans that certain people in the western world had in the early half of the century and in developing a successful alternative to capitalist ideology.

        • northernobserver says

          You have got to be a 4chan troll testing out a new shit-lord theory to provoke leftist minds.

          It’s too perfect and melodramatic, like that dope in Chicago trying to sell his anti-gay anti-AA hate hoax to the national news media.

          If this is sincere old school hammer and sickle time well … may your reign be mercifully short.

        • I would like to invite any Quillette commenter here for a train trip in the Ukraine, Roumenia or Slovakia (as I did recently), or any other old Sovjet state, and just start talking to ordinary train travelers, in English, so not maybe the most ordinary ones. Really, really, you will be surprised (as I was). None of them are happy with the new capitalist system, none (because, the few that are don’t take the train?). It’s all one long lamenting the high prices for potatoes, vegetables, medecines, rents, warming their appartments, education of their kids, etc etc. Stalin was the man that conquered Hitler!!, nothing wrong with him. Is this known among people of the West? I doubt, I doubt, I doubt! All living comfortable lives in a nice neighbourhood, can you believe it?? Of course not! It doesn’t fit!

          • E. Olson says

            Dirk – 70 years of Soviet rule can kill a lot of brain cells through excess Vodka consumption or brainwashing (Stockholm syndrome). A more realistic look at the popularity of Stalin in his time is seen by the fact that Ukrainians welcomed Nazi invaders as liberators in 1941, and volunteered in large numbers to fight the Russians. If Hitler hadn’t been so blinded by hatred of Slavs and foolishly had death squads follow his troops to kill off “undesirable” locals and treated Soviet prisoners so poorly, he would have had a lot of allies among the captured Soviet soldiers and citizens and productively held the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.

          • None of them are happy with the new capitalist system, none (because, the few that are don’t take the train?). It’s all one long lamenting the high prices for potatoes, vegetables, medecines, rents, warming their appartments, education of their kids, etc etc. Stalin was the man that conquered Hitler!!, nothing wrong with him. Is this known among people of the West? I doubt, I doubt, I doubt! All living comfortable lives in a nice neighbourhood, can you believe it?? Of course not! It doesn’t fit!

            Exactly. I am not from Russia, but from one of those Eastern European countries that the Soviets conquered. My grandparents’ generation were all in their prime years when that happened and had to go through collectivization after that, during which process they had stuff taken away from them, etc. In other words, they had all reasons to detest everything Soviet if the standard narrative is true, right?

            Yet every single one of them died a firm supporter of communism and deeply lamenting what was happening around them after 1989.

            How does that empirical fact, observed in most countries in the region, square with the standard narrative? Obviously it does not…

            Also, there is a huge representation bias here — the people whose voices reached the West were almost all living in the big cities in those countries and either belonged to the privileged classes prior to communism or at the very least aspired to live like that. They had reasons to be unhappy with the system. But they were something like 2% of the population, the rest of which saw things quite differently.

            Regular people were unhappy about things like not being able to buy a car (which, however, they generally did not need at all, because the cities were rationally designed with very good public transportation, and there was absolutely need for personal automobiles; it was just a status symbol, the only people who truly needed one were those with second homes in the countryside, of which there were many; but that fact should naturally lead to the question of how is it that people were so poor and miserable yet they had second homes in the countryside which they traveled to with personal cars… questions… questions…), not being able to travel abroad (which, however, was a necessary measure to stop the leakage of currency; it’s just that it was never explained to people; and it would never have been necessary had it not been for the economic warfare going on), and not having shiny consumer goods.

            All the things people in the USA do not have to this very day (education, health care, housing), they took for granted.

            So they thought life under capitalism was going to be a combination of the two — education, health care and housing remain free, but now we get to go to Hawaii for vacations. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way…

          • The preferred myth west of the Oder, and to some extent in the RF, is that the people of Russia adopted the Red Army after June 1941, they made it their own, they defeated the Nazis and so the Red Army of 1941-45 is one of history’s immortally great people’s armies.

            The Poles and Balts seem to have a different view of Germans and Russians but not sure what their view is on this particular point.

            I think most of us have seen “Goodby, Lenin” and “Other People’s Lives” so we know the Osties can be ambiguous on this point. I don’t know what the rest of Mitteleuropa might think about all this.

          • I learn from Peter that my last remark can be read as if that nice neighbourhood is a sovjet one, but it’s the one of the unbelievers in the comfortable West of course, what is meant here. Sorry for not being clearer.

        • I am so glad you posted this. It confirms that you are a small minded person who thinks they are very smart, and is so painfully ignorant that the hard lessons learned through history cannot even be acknowledged as they will conflict with your religious faith.

        • TarsTarkas says

          GM, I don’t think I’m going to vote for you when you run for Emperor of the World. I’d rather not be part of the collateral damage you cause when you ram your utopian vision down everybody’s throat.

        • Stephanie says

          @GM Russia was not a backwards peasant society at the time of the revolution. They were 3 generations out of serfdom and had a growing merchant class. They were growing prosperous so quickly that the French were worried they wouldn’t need loans from them anymore, and France would lose its leverage to force Russia to fight the Germans with them.

          When Tsar Nicholas II resigned on his behalf and on behalf of his son, and his brother Grand Duke Mikhail resigned on behalf of the people, the provisional government outlawed the death penalty, became one of the first countries to give women the right to vote, guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, decentralized authority, and convocated a constituent assembly based on universal, equal, and direct suffrage by secret ballet. Russia, far from being backwards, was one of the most humane and democratic countries in the world.

          Had the Marxists not hijacked the revolution, sabotaging the rich heritage of Russian society and astonishingly peaceful transition from monarchy to democracy, it is highly likely Russia would have continued on its trajectory of rapid economic growth and political freedom. The feeble, transient gains of Stalin came with huge sacrifices in human life, far too many lives to justify such a poor showing.

          Contrary to your ghastly claims, human life is valuable. No regime that must kill its own people to survive will survive in the long term, nor does it deserve to survive. Your callous attitude towards human life is deeply hypocritical considering your continued existence. I urge you to take your revolutionary attitude to your grave in some communist hellhole, or shut up and enjoy the benefits of this capitalist society with gratitude.

    • Adam Prime says

      “It is an easily verifiable empirical fact that Stalin took a backwards peasant society and turned it into a nuclear-armed industrial superpower that was about to be the first to conquer space by the time of his death, all within three decades and while suffering the largest wartime devastation the world has ever seen in the middle of it all.”

      The leadership needed big weapons to protect itself from outside threats. Military advances are hardly the hallmark of a free and prosperous society. Those vary quite independently.

      “Also, food security was ensured in the process too — there is this extremely intellectually lazy habit of bringing up the 1930s famine and using it as a tool to discredit collectivization without realizing that collectivization actually worked out very well as nobody in the Soviet Union ever starved after the post-war famine, whereas famines had been a routine occurrence prior to Soviet rule; it solved the problem it was intended to solve.”

      The 1930’s famine was orchestrated by the Soviet national government against the Kulak (aka small business) farmers. Just going to breeze over that? Becomes easier to feed everyone after you kill as many as 7.5 MILLION people. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor) It was carried out mostly against ethnic Ukranians which means it probably also qualifies as an attempted genocide too. By the numbers, worse than the Holocaust.

      And let’s not forget the western capitalist countries didn’t have any sort of famines like that. So communism can’t take credit so much as advances in agriculture. If anything, the Soviet lagged decades behind, as evidenced by Boris Yeltsin’s visit to an average Texas grocery store, about which he later remarked, “I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Yeltsin)

      • TarsTarkas says

        You need to thank Trofim Lysenko for the parlous state of Soviet agriculture. In addition to being a vindictive charlatan, he promoted the belief that genetics was invalid because it was a bourgeois concept. Sort of a forerunner for some of today’s nutso claims regarding gender and genetics.

    • Lil Peep says

      “Clearly communism can work very well if properly implemented”. The stupidity and willful blindness of this statement…60 million dead in the gulags of Stalin’s Russia…10 million dead in the Cultural Revolution (following Mao’s Great Leap famine that killed another 20 million!). No freedom of speech…extralegal abduction of political opponents…the horror that comes with collectivism as day follows night. Venezuela’s demise is so sadly predictable.

      Meanwhile capitalism has lowered world poverty from the mid 30% of the population to between 10-15%, all since the millennia! In less that 20 years.

      I’m kind of sick of coddling these collectivist idiots. You are a fool, sir.

      • Adam Prime says

        @Lil Peep

        I think young people see problems in the world and like to imagine they can solve those problems. When they find something like communism which claims to solve everything, they latch on. They never examine it critically because they don’t know how when they’re young and they’re too invested when they’re old.

        Look at what GM wrote here,
        “First, the death of any arbitrary large number of humans is of absolutely no consequence as long as the species as a whole survives. Let’s get that straight.

        The death of millions is indeed merely a statistic in the grand context of history. Only people with overtly inflated sense of their own importance fail to understand that.”

        Either he’s trolling or he’s blinded by ideology. It’s easy when he has no skin in the game. He can philosophize about people’s deaths from the safety of his laptop. Stalin’s goons aren’t going to kick down his door and drag his family into the night and ship them off to arctic death camps.

        The author (unwitingly, I believe) laid out a great explanation of the value of conservatism, here:
        “Progress and reform can seem maddeningly sluggish under such circumstances, particularly when attempting to redress grave injustice or to meet slow-moving existential threats like climate change. But I have learned to be wary of those who insist that the perfect must be the enemy of the good, and who appeal to our impatience with extravagant promises of utopia.”

        That’s not to say everyone should act and think like a conservative all the time. I certainly don’t. But it’s an important voice to have in the conversation. And I think GM sent that voice in himself to the gulags long ago.

      • 60 million dead in the gulags of Stalin’s Russia

        In your next reply it will probably have risen to 80 million.

        Where exactly did you pull that number out of, if we may inquire?

        Meanwhile capitalism has lowered world poverty from the mid 30% of the population to between 10-15%, all since the millennia! In less that 20 years.

        In Eastern Europe, communism lowered the poverty rate from 95% to 0% within three decades. Then capitalism raised it back to 60% within 5 years. Facts.

        But even to just look at those facts would be to misunderstand what actually happened — what actually generated the wealth were fossil fuels, not the socioeconomic system. The socioeconomic system just changed the distribution.

        • E. Olson says

          GM – Stalin allowed the bleak film “The Grapes of Wrath” to be seen by the Soviet public during WWII, and they all thought it was a propaganda picture because poor people couldn’t possibly have personal cars to emigrate from dustbowl Oklahoma to the promised land of California.

          As to all that Eastern European prosperity, is that why they had to build the Berlin Wall to keep those poor starving West Germans from out?

        • Eastern Europe did not have a 0% poverty rate. Most of the population was poor relatively speaking. It just didn’t get counted as poverty since that was considered normal. Plus sending homeless people to work camps might make them count as employed, but they are employed the same way serfs are.

        • I have lived in two communist controlled systems, and fled both. I also had the opportunity to visit the former Soviet Union right after the fall of communism, and I saw first hand the horrors the communists brought. This included enormous human rights abuses, a legacy of absurd decisions which had gradually degraded the economy, and environmental damage the likes of which I had never seen or heard of.

        • TarsTarkas says

          poverty 95% to 0 in three decades. And you trust Soviet statistics? And their definition of poverty? When everybody owns everything all together, (hardy har har) how can there be poverty? You are so over the top with your comments and retorts you have to be a troll. It’s entertaining, though.

      • stevengregg says

        The Communists always claim that Communism needs the right conditions to thrive, like a hothouse flower. But, then, capitalism thrives everywhere in all conditions.

        • TarsTarkas says

          Yes, but the flower thathothouse orchid will produce will be so exquisitely beautiful!

          It’s such a shame that it always seem to wither and rot while still in bud. Damned capitalist roaders!

    • DeplorableDude says

      I seem to remember the US providing the Soviet Union with a good amount of food during the 80s. Also, most of Russia was still a peasant society in the 80s, just like China is now. A few live well in the cities, most are subsistence farmers.

      • >Also, most of Russia was still a peasant society in the 80s, just like China is now

        How dumb and uninformed does one have to be to write that?

        >Either he’s trolling or he’s blinded by ideology. It’s easy when he has no skin in the game. He can philosophize about people’s deaths from the safety of his laptop. Stalin’s goons aren’t going to kick down his door and drag his family into the night and ship them off to arctic death camps.

        Have you considered the alternative explanation, i.e. that some people happen to be more educated and informed than others and thus have a more accurate understanding of the world around us, and that you are not among them?

        >If anything, the Soviet lagged decades behind, as evidenced by Boris Yeltsin’s visit to an average Texas grocery store, about which he later remarked, “I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”

        1. The standard of living of Soviets was not much lower than that of Americans. The Americans had more access to shiny consumer goods, the Soviets had access to what matters a lot more (free health care, basically free housing and the best education in the world) and it is not as if they were starving (those pictures of empty shelves you see paraded are mostly from the period of collapse). And most importantly, everyone had access to it, unlike the situation in the US where people are still dying and going bankrupt to this very day because they can’t pay for surgeries and medication, and where millions of children are food-insecure. On balance it was better to grow up under communism in Eastern Europe (not in China though) in the 1960s and 1970s than in the US.

        2. Has it ever crossed your little mind that Yeltsin was one of the circle of people in the nomenclature that had come to the conclusion that the system did not serve their interests anymore and therefore it was beneficial for them to dismantle it, which is what they did. And therefore everything he said has to be understood through that prism

        P.S. For the record, I am not even an communist, I am a scientist, and it is a mortal sin for a scientist to adhere to any ideology. I just happen to know my facts about life under communism straight from the source (having actually lived under it), and one has a duty to correct people when they freely spout absolute bullshit and complete falsehoods.

        • stevengregg says

          A Lithuanian friend of mine lived under Soviet rule, visited East Germany, and was surprised to find the shelves stocked, unlike back home. She asked the East Germans what were the West German stores like. They told her it was as big a jump from East to West German stores, as it was from Lithuania to East Germany.

          Your claim that the Soviet people had the same standard of living as Americans is ridiculous propaganda. The Russians who served in the embassies in the US all ran big side businesses of buying American goods, particularly blue jeans, to sell at a premium back home in Russia.

          • Your claim that the Soviet people had the same standard of living as Americans is ridiculous propaganda. The Russians who served in the embassies in the US all ran big side businesses of buying American goods, particularly blue jeans, to sell at a premium back home in Russia.

            Again, if access to consumer goods (or rather, potential access provided you have money) is all you care about when you evaluate “standard of living”, then the Americans had it vastly superior.

            But if you also include things like healthcare, education, housing, crime levels, etc, you get a very different picture.

            Also, I recall that in the 1970s and early 1980s even New York looked like a war zone literally a mile away from Wall Street, while no such conditions were to be found anywhere in the Eastern Bloc. I also recall long lines for gas, Nixon imposing price controls, etc. etc. But those things are conveniently forgotten.

          • Stephanie says

            GM, by your definition of “standard of living,” slaves have it the best off. Why worry about feeding, educating, or housing yourself, when someone else can do it for you? All you need to do is sacrifice your freedom and work for your owner.

            Not surprised to hear you’re a scientist. Only someone who’s only ever sucked off the public teat can sustain such a desire for domestication.

        • Some people are indeed more informed than others. You are not one of these people. Please stop acting as though you are educated or intelligent, and that everyone else is the problem. It is getting into parody at this point.

    • Farris says

      @GM

      “Also, food security was ensured in the process too ..”

      One need only compare grocery lines in the Soviet Union with the lack of grocery lines in Western countries. Your argument is reminiscent of Khrushchev during the “Kitchen Debates”. In a few years we will have these things too!
      The Soviet Union maintains agriculture production goals. The U.S. produces a surplus. Communism is a wonderful system unless you have to live in it.

      • stevengregg says

        Exactly. As one Russian put it: In Russia, you chase the food. In America, the food chases you.

    • Johan says

      @GM…Eliminating corruption is a certain side effect when you execute millions of your own countrymen.

      • Eliminating corruption is a certain side effect when you execute millions of your own countrymen.

        Or perhaps if you want to eliminate corruption, you have to get serious about it…

        Has it ever occurred to you that the purges might have happened for reasons other than Stalin being a blood thirsty monster? Probably not

        • Stoic Realist says

          @gm

          Sorry, but the whole sale, cold blooded torture and murder of millions of people is sufficient justification for labeling someone a blood thirsty monster. The fact that you are now trying to rationalize those deaths as insignificant and unimportant or even ‘necessary’ is disturbing. Do you want me to believe that there were people who were happy living under Stalin? I am sure that there were. There were also people who were happy living under Jim Jones. That doesn’t mean that either of them were good leaders.

          You gloss over a lot in your statements. Little things like the long food lines for bread so hard and stale it had to be left to soak in vodka to be softened up enough to eat. Things like the massive amount of pollution that was cavalierly ignored in Stalin’s only partially successful attempts to industrialize. Let us also not forget the regular shortages and the low quality of the free health care that was available. (The doctors seen by the members of the Politbureau were in a different league from those the common citizen had access to. ) For all you claim that others are giving a slanted, one sided view of things your picture is no better.

          As far as your level of knowledge goes maybe you are a scientist, I am willing to take your word on it, but you are clearly not an economist nor informed on the subject. Were I, a non-physicist, to start lecturing you on thermodynamics (which I take to be in your sphere given your common use of it for reference) you would tell me to stick to things I am informed about. As a person of science you might wish to apply that philosophy as well.

    • historian says

      “because the mechanisms he instituted to do so were dismantled”.

      That would be the gulags? and the NKVD?

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @GM

      “So clearly communism can work very well if properly implemented.”

      Well yes. If properly implemented. Alas, it seems never to be properly implemented. Nuclear fusion could/would/will solve all our energy problems once properly implemented. Alas, no one has been able to properly implement it (yet). The fundamentalist Believer will say that it is just a matter of time till they properly implement it. The fundamentalist Denier will say that it has never worked therefore it will never work. I say that it’s a cool idea and maybe one day it will actually work, but for now it produces zero usable power.

    • Gringo says

      P.S. To anyone bringing up the failures of the Venezuelan state to provide food and security to its people, pause for a second to think about what would happen to countries like the US, the UK, South Korea, and many others if food and/or oil imports into them were to stop for some reason, then reflect on the implications of that for how you see the “successes” of capitalism in those countries
      From 2014 to 2017, Cereals production in Venezuela- corn and rice here- fell 59%. I find it hard to blame the collapse in cereals production on lower oil export revenues.
      http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#country/236

    • Gringo says

      Also, food security was ensured in the process too — there is this extremely intellectually lazy habit of bringing up the 1930s famine and using it as a tool to discredit collectivization without realizing that collectivization actually worked out very well as nobody in the Soviet Union ever starved after the post-war famine, whereas famines had been a routine occurrence prior to Soviet rule;

      A perusal of Wikipedia:Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union indicates that the Soviet era famines of the 1920s and 1930s resulted in substantially more deaths than previous famines.

      One of the most serious crises before 1900 was the famine of 1891–92, which killed between 375,000 and 500,000 people, mainly due to famine-related diseases.

      Then we go onto the Soviet era. While the previous famines were the result of bad weather, Soviet policy was the cause of the famines in the 1920s and 1920s. In the 1920s, low prices paid to peasants and attempts at collectivizing agricultural land resulted in the grain harvest falling from 80 to 46 million metric tons.

      The early 1920s saw a series of famines. The first famine in the USSR happened in 1921–1923 and garnered wide international attention. The most affected area being the Southeastern areas of European Russia (including Volga region, especially national republics of Idel-Ural, see 1921–22 famine in Tatarstan) and Ukraine. An estimated 16 million people may have been affected and up to 5 million died

      Then we have the second push towards collectivization in the 1930s,coupled with grain exports.

      Estimates of Soviet deaths attributable to the 1932–1933 famine vary wildly, but are typically given in the range of millions.[22][23][24] Vallin et al. estimated that the disasters of the decade culminated in a dramatic fall in fertility and a rise in mortality. Their estimates suggest that total losses can be put at about 4.6 million, 0.9 million of which was due to forced migration, 1 million to a deficit in births, and 2.6 million to exceptional mortality.[25] The long-term demographic consequences of collectivization meant that the Soviet Union’s 1989 population was 288 million rather than 315 million, 9% lower than it otherwise would have been.[2

      Compare:
      1891-92 Famine: 375,000-500,000 deaths
      1921-23 Famine” 5 million
      1932-33 Famine 4.6 million.

      The main difference in post 1917 famines compared to previous famines is that before 1917, famines were the result of bad weather. Government policy was the main driver for the 1921-23 and 1932-33 famines.

      • While the previous famines were the result of bad weather, Soviet policy was the cause of the famines in the 1920s and 1920s.

        The main difference in post 1917 famines compared to previous famines is that before 1917, famines were the result of bad weather. Government policy was the main driver for the 1921-23 and 1932-33 famines.

        First, the 1921-23 and 1946 famines happened immediately after the country was destroyed, first by the Civil War, and then by WWII. You cannot pin that on government actions alone.

        Second, you do not dispute the fact that after 1946 there were no famines, while prior to 1917 bad weather was causing famines every few years. What changed? Collectivization.

        So how is it that collectivization was so bad and disastrous yet once it was implemented the famines stopped while in the free-market paradise that was life under the Tsar bad weather was causing famines every few years? It does not compute.

        How many millions died it completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of history. It may sound monstrous to some but those are people incapable of independent thinking and getting their minds free of the shackles of the cultural conditioning that they have been subjected to from the day of their birth.

        And, of course, there is the “small” matter of the hundreds of millions that died and were enslaved in order for capitalism to be built. Those are somehow never mentioned when communism is accused of being bad.

        Another thing that is forgotten is the global context of the 1930s — while the Soviets were having their industrial miracle, capitalism was going through the Great Depression. If we were to have that discussion back then, things would look very very different. They in fact looked very different up until the mid-1970s (one thing one can always reliably bet on is the historical ignorance of American people, so it is not surprising that a lot of people are not aware of it, but the Soviet Union was actually winning the Cold War until that time). So how do you know if we are to have the same discussion 50 or 100 years from now they would not look very different again?

        Yes, a lot of people suffered under Stalin, but he had to (in his own words circa 1929) do in 10 years what the capitalists had done in 200, or Russia was going to be no more. Subsequent events proved him right.

        • Gringo says

          How many millions died it [sic] completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of history.
          Which renders your “collectivization stopped famines” narratives also irrelevant, because you have stated that how many died or not died is irrelevant.
          If collectivization solved production issues, then why did the USSR import wheat from the west? If collectivization solved production issues, then why did the USSR produce an average of 80 million metric tons of wheat from 1980-1991, while in 2017 Post-Soviet states produced 142 million metric tons of wheat?

          Yes, a lot of people suffered under Stalin, but..
          Had you known people who had suffered under Stalin, you might have had a different opinion of him.
          Ciao.

          And yes, government policy WAS the main driver behind the 1921-23 famines. Lenin refused to pay the peasants, and they refused to produce.Which resulted in the backtrack of the NEP.

          http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QC

  7. Angela says

    One of the best articles Ive seen published on Quillette. Although as an also reformed former far lefty I might be a bit biased.

    • I’m rather curious about your odyssee from left to right, Angela, from Clifton I won’t get response (not done on Quillette) but maybe from you. Where I listen to extremists on radio or TV (one preching you should let your childeren all the freedom they aspire, the others being sure that they should be disciplined strictly from early on, and similar stories of capitalists and socialists, environmentalists and industrialists, etc etc, I always stay calm and relaxed, and know that they both talk nonsense, I learned from Aristoteles (and my own parents) that the middle way is the only good one, though not sexy and popular in the media. Is that different with you? As a reformed one from one extreme side to the other??

      • For my self: born into mid- to lower working class after 1945; inducted into the Army in 1966; Vietnam 1967-68; VVAW and notional Wobbly/Trotskyite 1970-72; hung out with Stalinists, Maoists and utopian socialists1972-74; chucked the whole thing after 1974 and evolved serially into a Digger, Leveller and finally classic Reformed constitutional democratic republican on the Anglo-American model.

        It will be interesting to see if Angela responds.

      • Gringo says

        I’m rather curious about your odyssee from left to right, Angela..

        Reasons for leaving the left: try General-President Velasco and Sendero Luminoso. Apparently Laurie Berenson was completely unaware of them. 🙂

        Extended, independent research on Latin America was a big factor in my leaving the left. For example, the lefty narrative on Allende was that the “democratically elected” Allende was deposed with considerable assistance from the CIA, The people of Chile were for Allende- only the oligarchy and the CIA were against him, went the lefty narrative. I found out the narrative didn’t fit the facts.

        Years after the coup, library research showed me the lefty narrative ignored the fact that there was considerable civilian approval for a coup. The also “democratically elected” Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution three weeks before the coup by a 81-47 vote, a resolution often called the Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile’s Democracy. This resolution passed by a strong 63% majority. Here is an excerpt from the resolution.

        5. That it is a fact that the current government of the Republic, from the beginning, has sought to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the state and, in this manner, fulfilling the goal of establishing a totalitarian system: the absolute opposite of the representative democracy established by the Constitution;

        6. That to achieve this end, the administration has committed not isolated violations of the Constitution and the laws of the land, rather it has made such violations a permanent system of conduct, to such an extreme that it systematically ignores and breaches the proper role of the other branches of government, habitually violating the Constitutional guarantees of all citizens of the Republic, and allowing and supporting the creation of illegitimate parallel powers that constitute an extremely grave danger to the Nation, by all of which it has destroyed essential elements of institutional legitimacy and the Rule of Law;

        The 63% of the “democratically elected” members of the Chamber of Deputies who voted for such a strongly worded resolution would not have done so if they didn’t believe they didn’t have the backing of their constituents.

        President Allende correctly stated that the resolution “promoted a coup.”

        Another reason for leaving the left was comparing Pinochet’s record with what the left said about Pinochet. The left informs us that Fidel’s record on improving Cuba’s healthcare is impeccable. Maybe so, but the record informs us that the Pinochet regime had a superior record compared to the Castro regime in improving public health- but the lefties never mention that.

        Consider how the 16 years of the Pinochet regime did compared to the first 16 years of the Castro regime- or the first 16 years for which there is readily available data.

        Castro’s Cuba took 14 years, from 1963 to 1977, to reduce the Infant Mortality rate from 41.7 to 20.6.
        Pinochet’s Chile took 6 years, from 1977 to 1983, to reduce the Infant Mortality rate from 41.8 to 20.8. (mortality rate per 1,000 live births)

        World Bank and ECLA/CEPAL currently do not have any Infant Mortality data for Cuba before 1963, so for a comparison of the 16 years of the Pinochet regime, I will use the first 16 years available for the Castro regime.
        From 1963 to 1979, Cuba’s Infant Mortality rate went from 41.7 to 17.5.
        From 1973 to 1989, Chile’s Infant Mortality rate went from 64.1 to 17.1.

        Chile under the Pinochet regime accomplished the above with markedly fewer physicians per population than Cuba had.
        Physicians (per 1,000 people)
        Cuba 1960 0.946
        Cuba 1970 0.822
        Cuba 1981 1.388
        Cuba 1984 1.886
        Cuba 1990 3.656
        Chile 1960 .559
        Chile 1970 0.46
        Chile 1979 0.52
        Chile 1984 0.82
        Chile 1990 1.1

        https://data.worldbank.org/ Physicians (per 1,000 people) and Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births)

    • Craig WIllms says

      @Anjela
      I agree, it was a fascinating piece. I’m glad I read it all the way through since I was screaming in my head at the author by the halfway point.

      Good on you for reforming your old lefty views. I was never far from the center myself due to upbringing under a conservative union democrat parental regime. I tilt center/right today, and am vehemently anti-socialist. I do long for a better overall system than we have in the west and in the U.S. in particular. I’m open to ideas, but not proven failures like hard core socialism.

  8. Irene Montero says

    Thank you for this article. As a Venezuelan, I am a direct victim of this criminal regime first under Chavez and later under Maduro. We are now proud of finally waking up and taking destiny in our own hands. Just as a reminder for those who claim that the current process in Venezuela is US promoted (which in itself is an insult to 30 millions of us struggling to end this regime and to the memories of the victims fallen under this regime): in 2015, the people elected the National parliament where the oposition won mayority. As the regime didn’t like the result, it decided to render void the democratic elected parlament and create a parallel, illegal and fake “constituyente” parlament. This was a coup d’Etat agains the country. It was this illegal “constituyente” who gave green light to the fake, Miky Mouse elections last year where maduro was “elected” president. These elections were a massive fraud. The legal end of Maduro’s period was on the 10th of January 2019. On that day, the democratically elected National Assembly declared the existence of a power void. In this case, following article 233 of the Venezuela Constitution, the president of the National Assembly (Juan Guaidó), has to take the role of President Interim until free and democratic elections are possible. In the meantime, he has to lead a transition governement.

    The US has nothing to do with this. This is the Venezuelan constitution, this is our law, this is our land and we are freeing ourselves from the socialist nightmare. We are deeply thankful for the support not only of the US, but also of Canada, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and most democracies in the continent.

    • ga gamba says

      Ms Montero, thank you for your comment.

      I wish the best to you and your people to topple this cursed regime. If you’re victorious, and decide to keep the oil industry in state hands, follow Norway’s Statoil example. Then study South Korea’s and Taiwan’s development strategy for everything else. Use Singapore as the template to fight corruption. But for God’s sake don’t look to the West as a role model.

      • But, Ga G., have you ever been in a Latin country? They’re all looking constantly to the West, I was befriended with people there, colleagues, that sent their 15yr old daughter for a holiday to Disneyland, just for the taste of it, it’s really hopeless, I didn’t know how to react there, being an expatriate, because didn’t want to spoil their enthousiasm and fun!

    • Ms. Montero, Thank you for weighing in. My understanding was that the United States acknowledged and supported the people’s decision. I am hoping for the peaceful restoration of your beautiful country.

  9. Greg Lorriman says

    “The available scientific and statistical evidence (not to mention common sense) weighs strongly against belief in bodily resurrection from the dead.”

    Completely nonsensical. It’s a religion based on an all powerful supreme being. One that would not be constrained by scientific/natural limitations, but have indeed created them. And being the creator, would make it possible to effect a resurrection if it wanted to.

    Further, Jesus Christ is the god itself.

    This fellow lacks a reasoning mind, let alone commonsense.

    Meanwhile, let’s look at some scientific evidence. The inventor of the Big Bang theory was a Catholic priest (physicist first). Indeed there are more physicist believers than biologists. And the father of modern genetics is considered to be a Catholic monk. Not Darwin.

    Funny how atheists never mention that Christianity has the science wrapped up, or that Genesis has many signs that it is meant to be read symbolically not literally. Most of Christianity has never been dogmatically biblical literalist. And most of present day Christianity is not creationist.

    Adam and Eve AND Evolution. Yes. And anthropologically there’s even evidence for it, at about 40,000 years ago the near simultaneous advent of nuclear families, the wipe-out of the neanderthals (who were presumably meant to be our servants) and the sudden explosion of art.

    Further, the reason for the multi-universe theories is that the maths of an orderly, structured universe that contains more than only a soup of hydrogen atoms is so inconceivably improbable that only an infinite number of universes can reasonably solve the problem. But it’s an atheistic presumption, Mr Hawking “the simplest solution is that there is no god”, is not proof that there isn’t one (and is not even true).

    On a scientific and philosophical level, there is something which has the property fundamentally of ‘existence’. One day our physicists brethren hope to describe it in an equation, the grand theory of everything. It is conceptually the juncture between abstraction and the concrete, mind and matter, science and philosophy.

    And it has one fascinating property: it has to be self-referencing. It exists of itself.

    That being the case, that other grand self-referencing thing is self-awareness. So the question is not “Is there a god” but “Is the fundamental thing self-aware?”. IF so, Dawkins’ main argument of “Who made God?” is answered.

    The answer is yes by our perosnal witness, and that it cares for us, and that it is willing to communicate directly person to person with those who make the effort. And it’s not a rare thing but commonplace, with much of the world recognising God in the various monotheisms that define their supreme beings exactly the same way: personal, loving, just, but merciful to the merciful. The Catholic Church even teaches that God has manifested to some degree in most of the monotheisms.

    The fundamental reason why people refuse to believe is not really science or a supposed lack of evidence but that they cannot reconcile a caring God that is ‘truth itself’ with the suffering of the innocent.

    But a Christian has no excuse for disbelief on this basis. Unlike the other faiths, the god itself has become a man and suffered and died at the hands of the evil and for their sakes to demonstrate a)pure self-giving love (charity) which is the basis of meaningful relationships, b)the necessity to satisfy justice in order to give mercy c)that terrible suffering is preferable to sin, the loss of personal integrity.

    The innocent suffer for the sake of the guilty, and in the life to come will not regret any of their agonies, and everyone without exception experiences agony, but rejoice that God permitted them a share in his passion and death and the salvation of some of the evil.

    Only Adam and Eve had a comprehensive Utopia where everyone’s greatest pleasure would have been making everyone else happy, not themselves, the rule of charity of God’s love rather than self-serving human love. Though even now a few behave like that, and tend to be loved in return and happy. But that paradise is over, and now we must help those who are centred on their own personal happiness to leave themselves behind, deny themselves, and give themselves to others, or risk a miserable life and even suicide.

    But there’s hope even for deranged ex-Christians, as Chavez himself proved.

    • Thanks Greg. I totally abandon atheism. Those 17 short paragraphs of coherent, logical reasoning finally convinced me.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @coreycroom,

        Lol! If you have nothing to say, then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

    • It’s not clear whether or not you’re excluding non-Trinitarians from the communion of all believers.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @EK, no I’m not, though I’m sure other Christians would disagree but not Catholics for whom the generalised acknowledgement of God in most other monotheisms is a matter of formal doctrine.

        I don’t think not having the whole picture, as a Christian would see it, doesn’t mean you don’t have enough of it to be acknowledging the same God. Certainly for Christians the OT jews did not know of a trinity as that wasn’t a problem then.

  10. E. Olson says

    A very nice “come to Jesus” story by an apparently lapsed Christian and Communist. Capitalism is all about allocating resources to their most productive uses, which means giving the most resources to those with the best ideas and lots of capacity for smart/hard work, and lesser amounts to those with lesser amounts of each, but since overall productivity is maximized everyone has a better standard of living than they would otherwise at the expense of outcome inequality. Capitalist rich are often criticized for not “earning” their riches, but Capitalism also ensures that wealth that is received via luck (aka lottery winners) or inheritance will dissipate to more productive uses and people if the lucky/inheritors do not efficiently utilize their good fortune (aka shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations). Such “ill-gotten” fortune is also a key mechanism in explaining how Capitalist systems can be corrupted, as the rich but untalented or lazy attempt to use part of their fortune to influence governments to protect them from the creative destruction of markets in order to hang onto their fortune. The other mechanism for corrupting or weakening Capitalism is when groups without talent or work capacity manage to convince governments to give them resources they haven’t earned. Thus Capitalism can only be “defeated” or slowed when corrupted or “fairness” oriented governments allow individuals or groups who are not productive to have or keep resources they do not productively use.

    In contrast, Communism/Socialism is all about taking resources away from the most productive and giving them to the least productive, which lowers the ability and incentive of the productive to produce wealth while causing resentment, laziness, and societal dysfunction among those given more than they deserve and can productively use. The true downfall of Communism/Socialism, however, is that since individuals working in their own self-interest (aka free-markets) don’t decide resource allocation, some individual or group must decide and order the overall resource allocation and this immense power always leads to corruption and multi-billion dollar Swiss bank accounts for the likes of Castro, Ortega, and Chavez and their cronies. Thus Communism/Socialism always fails because the least productive and least deserving get too many resources, and the most corrupt get the lion’s share of the resources.

    The interesting aspect of this story is its focus on totalitarian Socialist/Communist regimes in Latin/South America that have all ended in failure (as they must) and disillusioned the author. Yet the biggest “bad” guy in most accounts of totalitarian governments in that part of the world is almost always Pinochet of Chile. He is the only Right Wing dictator in recent history, and the only dictator to peacefully relinquish power to a prosperous country (thanks to his economic policies) and democratic elections, because being Right Wing means his policies shrunk government and reduced it role in corrupting society and reducing productivity, all at the cost of about 3,000 dead Communists. Yet Pinochet is the only one ever arrested for human rights abuses and would have faced trial if not for ill health, yet Leftist Castro, Ortega, and Chavez (among others) destroyed their countries, killed many more political opponents, and never faced justice or even serious criticism from the mainstream (aka Leftstream) media or academia. This pro-Leftist bias also means the question that should be asked, but never is about Venezuela and much of the rest of Latin/South America is where can we find some more Pinochets?

    • Craig WIllms says

      E.Olson… Remarkable summation. And to think others have called you a racist troll on this forum. No I’m not be facetious, I may copy this [plagiarize] and use pieces of it myself. Nicely done.

      • E. Olson says

        Thanks Craig, but you seem to have forgotten to mention my misogynist trolling and poor mental health.

    • Richard Dale says

      Indeed, while I still see Pinochet as a symbol of evil due to a teen adventure novel set in Chile I read as a child, I know that some estimates put his death toll even lower at 2000.

      That is of course horrendous, but I cannot accept being told how terrible Pinochet was from people wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, when Che killed probably over 1800 people as Castro’s pet executioner (including in at least one case personally putting a bullet in the back of a 14-year-old child’s head) and many more as a “revolutionary” murderer for fun and yeah, maybe ideology. In other words it is entirely possible Che and those directly under him killed about as many people as the entire Pinochet regime. And he enjoyed it.

      • E. Olson says

        Richard – There was even a big Hollywood movie starring Jack Lemmon in 1982 about the evil Nixon administration’s support of the evil Pinochet Junta. I don’t recall any big Hollywood pictures about the evil Castro regime, or the evil Ortega regime, or evil Chavez regime, or evil Mao regime, or evil Stalin regime, but I can think of lots of Hollywood celebrities that have made supportive films, visits, and statements about those regimes. John Wayne’s attempt to show the evils of North Vietnam Communism in the Green Berets was savagely treated by mainstream Hollywood crowd, and the Killing Fields didn’t really link the Cambodian atrocities to Communism, and put more blame for the killings on US Vietnam War participation that seemingly brought Pol Pot to power. Communism killed 100+ million people in the 20th century, but it apparently that just isn’t worthy of Hollywood treatment.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @E. Olson

      One could hardly do better in that amount of space telling the capitalist just-so story. Someone with equal talent could, in the same amount of space, tell the socialist just-so story. Both stories would make it sound like their system was obviously the right one, and you’d have to be stupid or insane or evil or deluded or dirt ignorant not to believe it. We can always tell a story like that. We are the story-telling species. We need to get outside of our stories. I observe that Western liberal/capitalist societies actually produce the bestest for the mostest most of the time (between depressions and recessions and crashes and panics). But does that mean that they can’t do better? The engine in my truck works, but it benefits from a tuneup now and then too. I’m glad the power system here is publicly owned. I have no idea what church that makes me a member of. I don’t care, I’m actually an agnostic. If it works, I use it.

      • E. Olson says

        Ray – I’m fully aware of the Socialist/Communist justifications, which are built on the belief that the world is unfair and as a result some people are lucky and born with talent, intelligence, good parents, good health, good looks, optimal pigment, good luck, and in a prosperous/safe community, etc. while the less lucky are born with often drastically lesser amounts. As a result the inequalities in life outcomes that result are not earned, and those born lucky should therefore give the less lucky a fair portion of their luck derived bounty to create a more equal outcome for everyone. Almost everyone from far Left to far Right will agree on this unfair distribution of luck theory.

        What separates the Left from the Right, however, is that Socialist/Communist dogma also tends to ignore personal responsibility and individual life choices (i.e. choosing to study or work instead of party, choosing to save instead of spend, choosing to abuse drugs or have unprotected sex instead of just saying no, etc.) as contributors to unequal life outcomes, or suggests these choices are largely preordained by the luck of the individual (i.e. born in communities with good role models, born with less need to self-medicate, etc.).

        Further separation of the Left from the Right comes from what each prescribes as the optimal solution to the inequality problem. Socialist/Communist dogma suggests the most lucky are unlikely to attribute the bulk of their success to luck, but “erroneously” or “selfishly” believe it is mostly because of their own hard work and successful life choices, and as a result are not likely to voluntarily be generous enough to those born less lucky and therefore create “unfair” inequalities of outcome. Thus it becomes necessary for someone or some group to decide what the fair portion of fortune and resources of the lucky that should be redistributed to the unlucky, and also for the leadership to have the legal coercive power to enforce the exchange if the lucky refuses to cooperate.

        The Right tends to believe that giving some individual or group the power to decide what is fair and the power to enforce fairness will not be effective for a number of reasons. First, such power is corrupting in itself as both the lucky and the unlucky will seek favors from the leadership to get more favorable “fairness” outcomes for their side, while the redistribution operation itself is fraught with the risk of leakage to the Swiss bank accounts of the leadership. Second, the Right tends to believe that using coercion to extract excessive wealth and resources from the most productive citizens and uses will reduce the incentives and ability of those with the most ability to invest, take risks, and innovate, and therefore reduces the wealth and employment created by the economy to the detriment of everyone. Third, redistributing wealth and resources to the unlucky with no strings attached (e.g. welfare) creates incentives to remain dependent on aid, to be lazy, and make further bad life choices (i.e. drug and alcohol use, smoking, single motherhood, dropping out of school), and thus creates or fuels ever larger populations of “unlucky” citizens. Finally, the Right tends to believe that solving life inequalities is not possible and therefore not an important problem to address as long as the total economic system creates enough wealth, educational opportunities, employment, and charity to provide the poorest of any race, religion, or gender with adequate life quality and no legal discrimination to take advantage of housing, education, and employment opportunities for upward mobility.

        With zero exceptions, the last 100 years clearly demonstrate the Capitalist viewpoint of the Right is clearly superior in creating wealth and better life opportunities and quality for rich and poor alike versus the Socialist/Communist dogma of the Left. Furthermore, the Western world is a fairer place than any society in history, with unequaled and virtually unhindered life opportunities for people of all types of luck. Favorable viewpoints towards Socialism/Communism as this point in time can only be driven by total ignorance of history, resentment and jealousy of those who have made better choices to maximize their “luck”, or an egotistical and selfish desire to acquire power over other’s lives.

        • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

          @E. Olson

          I pretty much agree. But then again I might just agree with much of what a socialist would say in justification of his narrative. Liberal democratic capitalism ‘wins’ in practice, but as I said, that doesn’t mean a balanced approach has no merits. Canada is semi-socialist in some ways and I’m glad that it is. I’m glad that I don’t have to select an electric company or a water works and I’m glad that the poor don’t starve to death on the sidewalks. I like socialized medicine. But as you say there are all those semi-hidden reasons why full blown socialism fails.

          • Stephanie says

            @Ray, I’m Canadian as well and I understand the feeling of security that comes with the prospect that the government will take care of you if something goes wrong. When you grow up with a paternal (or maternal) government, that support feels necessary and just. But it is infantilization. It takes away people’s desire and ability to take care of themselves.

    • TarsTarkas says

      The problem with Communism/Socialism isn’t so much the top-down mechanisms by which it tries to redistribute resources (which of course fails, because it’s inherently coercive and corruptible and thus waste far more resources through its ill-informed diktats that it can possibly save) it’s the assumption that any wealth beyond what the proponents think is the ‘right’ level is/was unjustly acquired, and thus its redistribution to the ‘proper’ people and in the ‘proper’ amounts is unquestionably virtuous. That is why it is so difficult to persuade armchair Marxists of all flavors that their beliefs are wrong, because to them the cause is so noble and just, and to question it means that they aren’t that. It takes courage to admit one was wrong, and more to do something about it.

      An important contrast that I have not seen made here is comparing Pinochet with Videla & Co. The latter like Pinochet overthrew the existing government (Isabel Peron’s) and proceeded to exterminate the Monteneros and their fellow travelers, although at a considerable collateral cost, to put it mildly. Yet Argentina has gone a different way, both economically and politically, than Chile. Can someone more familiar with Argentina enlighten me?

  11. GregS says

    It is clear why socialism fails on national level – but what about its successes and failures on a micro-level?

    For that, one needs to study the history of the failure of one of the most successful implementations of socialism: the Amana colonies of Iowa. The colonies worked for 80 years before dissolving themselves into a corporation in 1932.

    There are good models that compete with standard owner driven capitalism. These can be seen in co-ops, credit unions, open-source software and worker owned businesses. Some work, some do not. The lesson that can be learned is that which works rises from the ground organically rather than what magically appears from on high.

    If one is truly interested in building successful socialist models, one would look at the crafting of laws to better govern and enable the forming of cooperative ventures rather than parading around with protest signs and shouting for the destruction of capitalism and its replacement by the likes of Maduro.

    • ga gamba says

      Hell, if you’re going to cite Amana, you might as well just go full on and use the Amish as your example – at the very least they’re still around and viable.

      Aside from the Quakers who embraced the modern world of their time, the remainder of the successful collectivists often belong(ed) to stand-offish religions usually living an agarian based life. But even all 300,000 Quakers that exist presently don’t dare to attempt pull of what their forebears did.

      If you’re looking for a modern and secular alternative, and aren’t interested in farming, check out employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) corporations – these are worker owned but pay is not equalised and the longer one’s in the more stock one acquires. I worked for one for several years and the pay and benefits were outstanding, though because everyone is an owner there tends to be policing of others spending, work, etc. In and of itself this is not a bad thing (waste is waste, after all), but for someone accustomed to the typical workers-versus-management business system where workers try to get one over their bosses, there’s no tolerance for that in an ESOP corporation. And, of course, with ownership also come the risks, which is something socialists can’t wrap their noggins around. ESOPs are capitalist though, if that puts you off.

      • GregS says

        ga gamba, I would not put the Amish in the same category as the Amana colonies. There are quite a few Amish around here and they are astonishingly entrepreneurial and individualistic in everything not controlled by their community – and those controls mostly concern behavior and custom, not the distribution of wealth.

        I definitely agree that ESOP’s are an excellent model and you are quite right about the self-policing and motivation. One would think socialists would focus on crafting laws to encourage such organizations – but few socialists are that wise or perceptive and would rather focus on the moral failures of capitalism while ignoring the moral failure of socialism.

        • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

          @GregS

          “while ignoring the moral failure of socialism”

          And visa versa.

      • Saw file says

        @gg
        Full on example would be, Hutterites.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutterites.

        Although there are minor variations between their sects, it’s a example of modern ‘functional’ communist ‘society’. It’s difficult to explain, but these colonies do really function (together) as a patriarchal christian agro-commune ‘society’.
        I don’t have the time now to explain, but there is a great deal of information available. My knowledge is western CDN prairies.
        Micro-communists & macro-capitalisrs.
        I would suggest that they are the best example of what Communism has to offer, for what that’s worth.

        • JBomb says

          @Saw file

          Keep in mind that Hutterites have figured out that the only way their colonies continue to function properly is by restricting their size to around a maximum of 200 people. In this way each member can keep track of and maintain all the inter-personal relationships within the colony. When the colony begins reaching its upper limits, the leadership convenes and starts making arrangements to start a daughter-colony. I believe the Amish follow a similar practice. I also don’t think you can down-play the significance of their religious beliefs in maintaining a stable and productive society.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @ga gamba

        “ESOPs are capitalist though, if that puts you off.”

        Who cares what the label is? If it works, it works. My credit union works. I loathe the big banks.

    • Adam Prime says

      @GregS Even the Iowa communities are macro compared the best example of socialism: The family.

      That’s the whole criticism of socialism though. Nobody says it’s impossible for people to give when they have extra to help those who have little. It’s not like we’ve never heard of charity, mutual aid, etc. The issue is trying to systematize that across a diverse population. Once we hit Dunbar’s number (the # of people the avg person can personally care about), it starts to break down.

      Anyone with a lazy coworker can tell you socialism can’t work except among a small, tight knit community like a family or, like in Iowa, where a small group have self selected to be part of such a lifestyle. Otherwise, incentives to work go down and incentives for politicians to graft a slice of that redistribution goes up.

      • GregS says

        Anyone with a lazy coworker can tell you socialism can’t work except among a small, tight knit community like a family or, like in Iowa, where a small group have self selected to be part of such a lifestyle

        I don’t know about that, Adam. I have worked for government, as well as corporations large and small and have known loads to be amazingly well distributed across all of them.

        At one state agency, a load transferred in and within a week, after a “talking to” in the parking lot, he transferred back from where he came. People tend to work things out.

        My concern is when an entire industry “become a load” and gets to lean on everyone else due to its political influence. Yeah, renewable energy, I’m talking about you. Socialism is nothing more than one big wind industry. It happens in state capitalism too – look no further than pharmaceuticals, an industry kept fantastically profitable by an FDA that keeps everyone and everything else out.

  12. In other news,after hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest, Hillary Clinton announced herself President of the United States. Her claim was immediately recognized by the governments of Venezuela, China, and the EU.

    • GregS says

      Chip, you are insulting the people of Venezuela. Juan Guaidó is no where as corrupt as Hillary Clinton.

    • TarsTarkas says

      And what election did Trump recently steal? When does his term end? Oh, in 2021.

  13. Having lived in both Tanzania (under Nyerere) and Venezuela (under Chavez), I have witnessed the failure of two political systems that had a lot going for them that should have guaranteed their success. In both cases, the failure was fairly spectacular but very sad. Yet many supposedly wise people continued to cling to the belief that those systems were successful and cared for their people.

    Clifton Ross demonstrates rare honesty in understanding and describing honestly what he was seeing take place in Nicaragua and Venezuela. More power to him — honesty on the part of a communist takes great courage, as he is finding out when former friends shun him. This is the so-called “red-pill experience,” and he is not alone. One has to have extreme personal strength to tell the truth during the red-pill experience, as is evident reading GM’s comments above.

    Now the Democratic Party in the United States is being pushed relentlessly leftward as the primary campaigns kick off to select their candidate. One can only hope they learn something from seeing what is happening in Venezuela.

    One might also hope Ross would revisit Christianity, particularly in the light of what Greg Lorriman writes in these comments. He might have an epiphany there too.

  14. Once the means of production of wealth are nationalized the means of financing opposition to the government has been removed. Then the one party rule has absolute power, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As Venezuela’s experience has shown, it doesn’t take long.

    • Oh, the naivety….

      There is no such thing as “absolute power”, the power structure is not some abstract separate entity that exists outside human society, it is composed of actual people with often competing interests; whoever is nominally on top can only govern through those people and has to therefore carefully balance between them. They may disagree with that arrangement at some point, and in fact often do so. It is true for absolute monarchs, dictators, and “democratically elected” rulers alike.

      Even Stalin was as late as the end of the 1930s still in very real danger of ending up in the basement of Lubyanka himself.

      There is also no such thing as “the one party” — there are all sorts of people with all sorts of different agendas inside that “one party”. This is how the USSR fell apart — it was a decision taken from within by one group of people within the party that the rest of it could not stop. Hardly a case of monolithic absolute power. One can just as well (and it is not far fetched at all, it is quite an accurate description actually) say that the USA is a one-party state (governed by the corporatocratist party, of which there are two warring wings).

      • stevengregg says

        So the Soviet Union under Stalin was not a one-party state but modern America is? This single argument strips you of all credibility.

      • Gringo says

        Even Stalin was as late as the end of the 1930s still in very real danger of ending up in the basement of Lubyanka himself.
        Oh yes, those show trials were real. As they say in Venezuela, Dime otro de vaqueros.
        Tell me another cowboy story. Tell me another fish tale.

      • I see, so the USSR had open, competitive elections among competing political parties with competing policies, and Stalin just kept winning these elections. And those he purged all died of natural causes.

      • Henrik says

        “There is also no such thing as “the one party” — there are all sorts of people with all sorts of different agendas inside that “one party. This is how the USSR fell apart — ”

        You just refuted centralized economy.

  15. Erica from The West Village says

    If it’s any consolation, most conservatives were idealistic liberals at one point in their early lives too.

    We weren’t born this way.

    You have to live life and experience its horrors to really appreciate how exceptional the Founders were when they created the Constitution that guides this society.

    While we can disagree about many things…we should not disagree that the genesis of what he have is embodied on that parchment paper scribed 240 some odd years ago.

    • @Erica

      The events of the 1620-40s in Parliament and in particular the doings of the Independent faction in Parliament, in New England and in the New Model Army laid the essential ground work for the doings in America between 1774-89.

      In many respects, the old Independents’ ideas were better.

      • New Model Army? A good band, but you presumably mean the mass-murderers who rampaged through Ireland in 1650. Neither the USA, Britain, or anyone else owes anything to Cromwell and his cronies.

        • @johntshea

          Well, the NMA only finished what the Irish Confederates began in1641 when they massacred 10 or 20 thousand Protestant Irishmen. Dublin Castle declared for Parliament and the Irish Confederates declared for Charles I and the War of the Three Kingdoms got serious.

          In 1649, the Independent faction won and executed Charles I. The Irish Confederates declared for Charles II and invited him and his French and Spanish allies to use the Emerald Isle as a base for an invasion of England. To a large extent, the Irish Confederation brought the unpleasantness of the 1650s on themselves. And didn’t they do the same thing again in1690?

          The Independents settled the Bay Colony in 1630, they dominated the NMA and the Leveller and Digger movements. They invented Angol-American republicanism, which thrived in the Colonies and culminated in the Revolution of 1775.

          John Winthrop’s last wife was Martha Rainborowe, the sister of NMA Col. Thomas Rainborowe, the voice of Leveller republicanism at the Putney Debates.

  16. Kathleen Lowrey says

    Quillette sometimes seems promising and then at other times… warmed over neocon regime change bullshit that sort of gives its probable underlying funding game away. “free thought lives” up to a point.

  17. Doctor Locketopus says

    “…socialism with a human face”

    Being stamped on by a boot — forever.

    • Farris says

      Most would not be willing to submit to the rule of a tyrant. Ah but make that tyrant a Committee and some will argue in favor of tyrany. Committees have leaders. Communism is merely an attempt to diffuse tyrany.

      • Stephanie says

        The advent of the surveillance state makes fighting an established tyranny extremely difficult. When you nationalised all industry, the government controls all education, media, and even personal communications. How can the people rise up when most are thoroughly brainwashed?

        We see this in China already. People disappear long before they can accomplish anything against the regime. Most Westerners don’t know half of how the Party controls the Chinese, let alone the fingers they have in our democracies.

        And China is the best communism has to offer on the national scale: the regime quietly joins the capitalist system, to keep their people’s standard of living rising, while requiring that anyone of any influence pledge feilty to the party.

        Best case scenario under communism is that you escape the economic collapse and retain the brutal autocracy.

  18. “…when they gain control over nations and peoples, their harmless dreams become the nightmares of multitudes.” A near perfect sumation of the Socialist Dream. Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. C Young says

    If our own murder fanboy – “GM” – were to declare support for fascist genocide, he could be prosecuted for a hate crime in many countries in Europe.

    Strangely, despite our claims to value every life the same, he’s probably safe promoting communist genocide. Eric Hobsbawm, a tireless advocate for mass political murder, actually received an honour from the Queen in the UK.

    It’s this asymmetry that allowed much the new left elite around Jeremy Corbyn to pledge eternal loyalty to Maduro’s regime of thieves, torturers and killers.

  20. Alphonse Credenza says

    It is wrong to insist that Socialism and Communism have failed everywhere. In fact, they have succeeded as intended: to divest individuals of their wealth and to concentrate it in the hands of a few ruthless pseudo-intellectuals, butchers and thieves; and to punish or preferably liquidate inconvenient idolators.

    Socialists and Communists are not nice people, but more importantly, they are never productive or constructive — they are destructive and “deconstructionist”. However, they must paint themselves as the opposite of what they are (even to themselves) in order to sway those whom they plan to deceive (even themselves). See the propaganda in light of the reality: these -isms are utterly cruel because the intention is at their heart is nihilistic, misanthropic and self-aggrandizing, necessitating and encouraging the destruction of civil society and chaos for all.

    This is why we must fight these ideas tooth and nail in the academy wherever it crops up. Fight with better ideas and do not shirk the duty we have to scholarship and truth.

  21. Richard Dale says

    Socialism is an inherently evil. It is inhumane in the literal sense, going against the fundamental things that make us human and treating people as things, not humans. It is inherently authoritarian, setting the needs of “society” as defined by … socialists? … demagogues? … dictators?… defined by those with power, above the needs of individuals within that society, and setting the demands of “society” above the fundamental rights of the individuals.

    Socialism necessarily entails one person being forced, under threat of violence (because any government mandate, including taxation, is backed by the threat of force) to work for the benefit of others. This is, by any reasonable standard, equivalent to slavery. But why does that surprise people when I point it out, when the father of modern socialism said “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” which could apply equally to chattel slavery? It fits perfectly.

    Of course slavery to the state can be even worse than the foul evil of slavery to a person. At least an owned slave might come to know his master, has individual value to his master to whom he is an investment, and that master might be tempered by feelings, by the laws of the state or social pressure into treating his slaves to a certain standard. USSR, Nazi Germany, WARPAC Europe, China, North Korea, Cambodia and now Venezuela are all reminders of what we all know if we bother to think: that if you are a slave to the state then nothing can temper the evils of your master, which has no feelings, and you as an individual have no value whatever to the state. You are entirely disposable.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Socialism isn’t inherently evil, any more than a gun is evil. It’s who uses it and how.

      Of course it can’t work because people aren’t identical. If were all identical we wouldn’t be having this discussion on Quillette about it.

      • Stephanie says

        @Richard, well said. Thank you.

        @TarsTarkas, a gun will do nothing on its own. It can be used for indiscriminate slaughter by one and heroic protection by another.

        Socialism, by definition, concentrates power over all aspects of society. Theoretically it is possible this power could be wielded by someone who is a) wise enough to predict the future needs of the people in perfect detail, b) beyond corruption, and c) of such incredible power that they can retain their position despite constant attempts to seize power from people who don’t have virtues ‘a’ and ‘b.’

        If you believe such a person will ever exist, your belief is infinitely more foolish than the idea Jesus rose from the dead. You essentially must believe that Jesus is going to be reborn as a Marxist revolutionary.

        Or perhaps you think that you – imperfect, corrupt, stupid you – are capable of holding all the power, all the knowledge, and all the virtue? If so, let me tell you in no uncertain terms, even though I know nothing about you: you are dead wrong.

  22. markbul says

    Funny how all these assholes suddenly get religion AFTER their friends have already rejected them. THEN they turn to other forums and plead ‘I’ve seen the light!’ Go back to your socialist teat, nimrod – we don’t need you telling us what we’ve known all our lives.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Don’t reject them because they at last saw the light. Freedom lovers need all the allies we can get. Especially former True Believers, who understand the methods of the enemy (think Whittaker Chambers) It’s the ones who refuse to see the light who are the enemy.

      • Stephenitisok says

        After reading Mr. Ross’s article I’m left with the distinct impression, and I really hope I’m wrong, that the author, seeing his train leave the station but still desperately needing to get somewhere, anywhere hopped up on the next departing train, not caring that it happened to be going in the opposite direction.

  23. If we needed to intellectually organise the digestion of an apple, which is a routine task for our bodies, we’d starve. Sophomoric pride cost us over 100 million lives in the 20th C.

  24. martti_s says

    Fascinating, how a poet has a voice that rings so much more true than any analytics or activists.
    He points out the problems as episodes he has lived through. It not easy to argue against a life experience. A poet who has erred, made mistakes and feels embarrassed sounds like a remarkable human being to me.

    The problem with socialism or any rigid totalitarian thought construct is that the process is in reverse. You start with an a priori truth and then if it does not cut, you put the participants to camps or kill them as traitors.

    Imagine trying to create an engineering project that way, or a scientific article.
    This is the key why theocracies and various flavors of socialism are so inefficient.
    A big percentage of the population has to police the others, to make them stick to the principles that do not work.

    Socialist theory has principles that can be successfully applied in modern societies as the wealthy Western democracies can prove. The bug is infallibility: If anything else than your premises can be criticized, you will end up in a cul de sac.

    It is totally useless and dishonest to blame the socialist people.
    Once they get the totalitarians off their necks, they can create remarkable economical and political success as the Former Warsaw pact countries can show.

    Why cannot the Latin Americans make any country run, ever?
    Is it the culture of tribal machismo or the values that say that if do nott grab everything you can while in the position, you are stupid?

    There are no exceptions.
    Is it the Tio Cayman of the North, United fruit and such?

    • Morgan Foster says

      @martti_s

      Why cannot the Latin Americans make any country run, ever?

      Because their countries did not start out as colonies of Great Britain.

  25. Pingback: The Bolivarian God That Failed written by Clifton Ross | RUTHFULLY YOURS

  26. Fabiano says

    It is such inspiring news to learn that a many years-old socialist can still wake-up to reality, but it is so much more appaling to think that an otherwise intelligent, cult, instructed, hard-working and talented individual could fall for this hoax for so long. People are truly stupid when defending their beliefs. Still it takes courage to admit one has been an imbecile, I applaud this man.

    • Amen! And it is interesting that Mr. Ross saw the light while on political pilgrimages in search of ‘alternatives’.

  27. Peter Piper says

    Leftism is inherently evil, both conceptually and in practice. If you need to see a practical example to understand this, you are a bad person and have no place in our society. It’s not for “empathetic young people” it’s for psychopathic losers.

  28. I may be able to provide some perspective on Venezuela from a totally different standpoint. In the 1900’s and early 2000’s I founded and ran an international oilfield service consulting firm. One of my largest clients was PDVSA, the Venezuelan National oil company. PDVSA was, in my opinion, the best of the national oil companies – better than Saudi-Aramco. The Venezuelan scientists and engineers were top-notch. Many had advanced degrees from prestigious schools in both the U.S. and Europe. When I first started working there, Venezuela actually had an illegal immigration problem. Although there was a large segment of the population that was poor, they were so much better off than in adjoining countries that many were leaving their home countries and coming to Venezuela. The middle class was growing quickly, fueled largely by the growth in the oil business. All of that changed when Chavez came into power.

    The Venezuelan fields are very tricky to properly produce. Oil has to be flowed from the wellbore to the tanks at precisely the correct rate. the If you produce the oil too fast you destroy the well-bore and if you do this on a field-wide level, you destroy the field. Therefore “chokes” are inserted into production strings to constrict the flow from the formation. Every good petroleum engineer knows how to do this and the Venezuelans were as good as anyone in the business. All of that changed when Chavez came into power. He knew he needed money to fund all of the social programs he had promised and the money had to come from PDVSA. Almost immediately after taking power, he fired all of the high-level managers at PDVSA and replaced them with his hand-picked thugs. These thugs demanded that they “open the taps” Many of the scientists and engineers, appalled at what they saw happening, naively went on strike. Chavez reacted quickly and brutally, he not only fired them, he forbade them from ever working in the oil business in Venezuela. The lucky ones got jobs in the U.S. I hired a few to work for me in Mexico. But for most, their lives were ruined – just like the wells they fought so hard to efficiently produce.

    As the well-bores were destroyed, production began to rapidly decline. For most of the 2000’s this decline was masked by an increase in commodity prices. Oil prices crashed on 2008 and then crashed again in 2014. The jig was up. The huge damage to the oil fields done by Chavez combined with the low prices and the loss of technical expertise put Venezuela into the downward spiral we see today. Whether the fields can ever be restored is an open question. But most of the PDVSA engineers and scientists that could accomplish this are long gone as are the service companies that they worked with. I was lucky. I got paid but many of these companies were owed millions by PDVSA.

    This is more than just a story about socialism to me. Along the way I fell in love with the Venezuelan people. Venezuela is the most sociable country in which I have ever worked. You go down there to do business but you come back having made many close friends. Several of my friends came back with Venezuelan wives (Grin). The Venezuelan engineers and scientists that I was privileged to work with were more that simply clients. They were very good friends. They understood the role that they played in their country’s well-being and were, justifiably, extremely proud of their expertise. I will forever be saddened by what has happened to them.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Thanks for that. People need to hear what happens at the grassroots level too.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        Yes, indeed, a comment like the above adds so much that is missing in the otherwise theological debates.

    • Now, JP, great this, technical, managerial and organisational backgrounds, and no party politics or black/white reasoning, this is what is needed here, though, maybe not sexy and outrageous enough. No spectacle, no drama, but human, all too human exposure. Applaus! More of it, please.

  29. Left Coast Skeptic says

    Mr Ross should spend ten years in an Amazon Warehouse Gulag as pennance for being such a self righteous and misguided moralist. A simple mea culpa would,at least show a little humility.

  30. Hi Clifton, I have read your book and gleaned quite a bit from it. I am not a Bolivarian flag waver, but I am a little troubled by what I believe are some over-simplifications in this piece. I’m also kind of stunned that you believe that the “Arab Spring” ousted Gaddafi from power, and presumably enhanced the quality of life for most Libyans.

    Questions:

    1. Do you support the economic sanctions on Venezuela?
    2. Do you recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela?
    3. Do you believe that the United States has actively worked to derail the so-called Bolivarian Revolution since its inception?
    4. Would you support an armed intervention if it successfully toppled the Maduro government?

    In my mind the current crisis is a product of government corruption and mismanagement, American interference, economic sanctions, and low oil prices. To deduce it to ‘socialism bad, capitalism better’ seems kind of elementary.

    • Grant says

      The reason socialism fails is because it necessarily breeds corruption and mismanagement. Sanctions against oil exports to the US were just place 6 months ago. Oil production declined from 3 million bpd to 1.2 in 15 years. Venezuel’s government is responsible for the decline.
      The economy had been wrecked. People don’t have food or medicine because there’s no money to buy it from foreign companies and they don’t pay their bills.
      Why subsidize that train wreck?

    • TarsTarkas says

      Are you saying that the Obama administration worked for eight solid years doing nothing but trying to overthrow Chavez or thwart his program? Har de har har.

  31. I often wonder what people mean by “capitalism” so I appreciated the footnotes. It barely exists today in the form of Main Street And has little to do with crony conglomerates and cubicle life. The thing that strikes me about socialism (despite the death, famine and necessary thought policing) is that it is totally devoid of creativity and innovation, truth and beauty. It is nihilism for those who are not the oligharch planners.

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  33. D.B. Cooper says

    Why then, did so many decent people, whose ethics and intelligence and good intentions I greatly respected, continue to insist that the capitalist system needed to be eliminated and replaced with what had historically proven to be the inferior system of socialism?

    I think, at least at this juncture, we need not continue to split countless hairs on enumerating the various reasons for why socialism – or planned economies, more generally – has failed as a matter of course. Frankly, I don’t believe there are a great many people who take Marx (specifically, his economic principles) seriously, and the people who do aren’t serious people themselves. As I’ve said before – and no, I’m not above quoting myself – presupposing the validity of your own suppositions is less social science than it is banal sophistry.

    And so, rather than waste time dismantling reflexive preoccupations of economically illiterate sycophants, I thought instead I’d try to say something about the question raised above. Ross says that he, “stubbornly refus[ed] to recognize that it [socialism] is based on a faulty premise and a false epistemology.” And he goes on to say that for the true believer (the kind he used to be), “utopian ideologies might bring happiness into their own lives, and even into the lives of those around them who also delight in their dreams and fantasies.

    Just speaking for myself here, but this answer seems a bit unsatisfying to say the least. Frankly, it’s not in the neighborhood of a satisfying answer; but something more like an empty hole in the shape of an actual justification for socialism, an impression left over after viable socioeconomic prescriptions, empirical data, moral reasoning, and rational argument have been completely gutted from the answer.

    There was a time (not all that long ago) when most Americans – yes, even, those on the Left – would’ve generally had the good taste to draw the line at gleefully supporting indulgently vindictive philosophies masquerading as enlightened self-interests; because they understood that underlying the overvalued beliefs that catalyze their own paternalistic sympathies were much deeper problems.

    But for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, an uncomfortable percentage of Americans today seem willing – more than willing, to be sure – to step over incalculable graves on the premise that socialism “might bring happiness into their own lives, and… the lives of those around them…” MIGHT being the operate word here.

    It MIGHT bring happiness. Really? This doesn’t even fall into the category of ‘not even wrong’. It’s just simply wrong. Sisyphus thinks this is the most charitable confidence interval that has ever existed. Honestly, who is still willing take that bet at this point? Marxism, in every iteration, is 0 for the century. Granted, it struck out swinging, but I would have to think that’s little consolation to the potential victims bystanders when considering it’s also among the league leaders in anthropogenic disasters by death toll.

    I can appreciate the desire of some true-believers to deflect unwanted responsibility, or even to seek absolution from the chronological senility of socialism’s most famous dispensations of making-the-genocide (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro). But self-preservation – I’m not ashamed to admit – comes natural to me, and I’m fairly confident the sentiment is widely shared among the majority of non-believers as well.

    What I don’t understand and what I can’t quite get my head around, however, is how any sober-minded person could negotiate the thicket of twisted logic that would necessarily require one to justifiably defend the moral framework of socialism’s governing tenets, given the historical record. While reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which socialism (or socialistic programs) accurately approximates to a first-order threat to a free society; I would say – again, given the historical record – a serviceable level of common sense would dictate something nearing Mill’s ‘harm principle’ with the understanding that ethics do scale. After all, if it is unethical for me to use deadly force to take another person’s property; then it is still unethical if I get the majority of my neighborhood to join me.

    But, maybe, Ross has it wrong. Maybe the driving force for true-believers isn’t the hope of bringing happiness into their own lives and the lives of others. Oh well maybe that will be a discussion (if I feel like it) for a different post.

  34. Peter says

    dirk: I was in the Soviet Union in the sixties. Big problem finding fruits, vegetables or a decent piece of meat in Moscow. Romania in the eighties under Ceausescu: meat impossible to find (only sausages consisting mainly of fat), farmers markets and shops a disaster – nothing worth buying even for a souvenir. I bought a kerosene lamp the kind of my great grandpa would be using in a stable. Masses of children with shaved heads in underground rooms with small windows opening on the sidewalk – an orphanage or a hospital? Very ecological though: not a single street light working during the night and wonderful night skies. And soldiers with machine guns all along the Danube: so that somebody would not swim into Yugoslavia from the »nice comfortable live« you are dreaming about.

    I will not dwell on Stalin, the paranoid mass murderer. He decapitated the leadership of the Red Army in the thirties and then again in in 1941, leaving it extremely vulnerable. He emerged victorious only by the unnecessary sacrifice of millions of soldiers and huge amounts of material help from the US. The victory was due mainly to the patriotism of the Russians that could not do anything but to resist the genocidal Nazis who considered them Untermenschen. (Hitler picked that from the ultra-aggressive German nationalists in Vienna.) Sergei Korolev, the father of the Soviet space program, spent six years in a labor camp, some of it in Kolyma in the far north.

    Communists destroy the society so thoroughly that recovery is a real problem. And the communist organizations survive, using the propaganda and the dirty tricks they know so well. Even so, why do not the people in Russia, Slovakia or Romania vote Communists once again in power and regain »nice comfortable lives« you are fantasizing about? The lives of most in Slovakia and Romania improved substantially, but people automatically complain. Boasting would be detrimental due to the envy of the neighbors. This widespread envy was masterfully exploited by the communists in their power grab.

  35. I believe most of what you tell here Peter, the problem on this blog is of course that the situation in the sovjet time is compared again and again with that in West Europe and the US, unforgible , you should compare it with 19th century Russia and Romania, people no longer in a loam hut in the village, far away of hospitals, theatres and higher education, no electricity, toilet, and toiling all days with a scythe, sickel and a hoe in the fields , but now in a decent (though modest) apartment with central heating, and all the basics as explained above, basics that now often are missing, or too expensive. I saw again a dutch movie about Russia now , people that lost family and land under Stalin, but no bad word about him, and now considerably poorer than in that sovjet apartment, unbelievable for us, not for me any more (after some traveling with trains over there) and MG (and he is knowledgeable about it all, with his sovjet history).
    So, I am not surprised, and happy to live here and now, but please, better consider it in his historical context, and DON’T COMPARE SOVJET MODEST LIVING STYLE WITH WESTERN LUXURY.

    The situation in Venezuela now (once with the highest living standards of Latin America) has nothing to do with socialism or capitalism, Maduro is not a socialist, but a very bad politician with a complete impossible heritage. Also here, the history has to be considered to judge about it properly.

    • Grant says

      Went to Romania in 1984, Dirk, and in the country side you saw nothing but people with scythes. People aged before their time because of lack of nutrition. They were living lives closer to medieval times than the 20th century.
      Why not compare Soviet Russia to the west? Everywhere people are given economic freedom they thrive.

      • In the 1990s, I spoke with a Slovakian farmer,Grant, who still was holding to all the equipment needed to plow with a horse, his son was laughing at this archaic belonging, but the old man (once victim of collectivisation) was smiling to me, explaining: if another revolution is at my door, I know how to proceed and grow my wheat and potatoes. yes, I also saw there some people with scythes, but most of them now were living in cities. In sovjet time, most workers on the kolchoz also had an acre or so in private property, with a pig, some chickens or geese and a potato field. This seems still to flourish in old sovjet states and Russia. Why not in Venezuela? Slaughter a pig before winter, and the whole year meat for the family.

    • Marak says

      Is it just Maduro? Would this be the result no matter who was in charge? The problem is not the politician. It’s the system

      • neoteny says

        The problem is not the politician. It’s the system

        The problem is that there are always politicians who are willing to give another try to the system in order to gain power.

  36. Oh my God Peter, my remark on the nice comfortable neigbourhoods in my answer on GM (and not MG, I see now) was not on the Sovjets, but the unbelievers (of a modest improvement that’s now mainly undone again) in the comfortable West. If I read it back now, I understand the confusion.

  37. Peter says

    OMG, are you really on the side of GM and his apologies of mass murder? Romania and Russia had some of the best agricultural lands in the world, as you should know. Banat, now in Romania, around Timisoara, was a land of plenty even before WW1. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire then , and one of the richer ones. Many regions in Romania and Ukraine (those under the Polish state) were quite comparable or even better off than Austria before WW2. Cities were nice and cosmopolitan, with very good universities. Not the same as the richest countries in the West, but close. Why did so many Germans choose to emigrate into Banat? Probably not to live in a loam hut. They prospered, as did other nationalities. But go on with those loam huts – though it seems to me like contempt from a rich Westerner.

    I have seen Ukraine in the Soviet times: Wonderful black earth, but very little of it cultivated. And peasants were still there, women with a single cow in the meadow, but their barns were collapsing.
    In Soviet Union there were often two families in the same apartment. Many people had to live in decrepit old buildings.

    Education and science were the only bright sides of the Soviet system. Chasing for talents all over the country, filtering students according to their abilities for the elite universities… produced good results in STEM disciplines.

    Health care: Psychiatric wards were used to lock up dissidents. The famous mathematician Lusin voluntarily went in fearing for his live.

    Russia has most problems recovering because the system there lasted so long. People were broken, as you saw in the film, used to be guided. Hardly anybody remembered how things used to in market economy.

    Sergei Korolev, the rocket scientist, had an excellent education. It prepared him well for working with a pickax in Kolyma, where he surely had, like millions of other Soviet enemies of state, a nice, small comfortable living space with central heating, not to mention excellent healthcare.

  38. Peter says

    I recently watched a panel on Venezuelan crisis and was astonished to hear all the experts (mainly left leaning) agreeing that the situation really deteriorated with the intervention of (a) Spanish leftist economist(s), adviser to Maduro.

    Google
    Spanish Marxist economist Venezuela

    • From Cuba, I fear! They once also had communist Vietnamese advisers for their rice schemes, but that seemed to have worked pretty well (for as long as they were there, at least). I still have to google the spanish marxist. Never a dul moment in Latin America.

  39. So, from Barcelona, I now learn, and a Che look-alike, and, maybe a touch of the ideas of those libertarian communities as flourishing in the Spanish civil war. The advises seem similar to the Cuban type, yes, URBAN AGRICULTURE, in Havannah quite succesful, good for 50% of all vegetables, pulses and fruits now, and also similar to the Datscha system in Russia, still good for most of their national potatoe production, as well as of vegetables, pork, eggs and even milk, unbelievable. But for producing in your own backyard you need green fingers, and rural perseverance, and for that, I really fear, the Venezuelans have lost all the appetite and knowledge.
    And this lack of appetite also means the end of Maduro, because, without food, imported or self made, no basics of human life.

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  41. Fickle Pickle says

    Speaking of failed “gods” why not check out the essay on the Baffler website by Eugene McCarraher titled
    “The World Is A Business: the mad alchemy that transformed the market into a GOD”.
    The image that comes up is “priceless”!

    A “god” which now controls the entire world and which has inevitably reduced all of human civilization (such as it was) to rubble.
    It is now reducing the planetary eco-systems to rubble too. Again inevitably, because by its very nature it reduces everyone and everything to lifeless (dead) commodities.

    The entire planet is now one vast sacrifice zone – such is of course demanded by the market “god”

    The benighted three stooges who provided the mad alchemy which justified it were of course Hayek, von Mises, and Ayn Rand.

    Anyone who believes that there ever was or is such a thing as a “free” market is seriously deluded. The truth-telling book The Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins should disavow of such a fantasy.

    Check out another truth-telling essay titled Trust Nothing by John Steppling which is featured on the Counterpunch website (Feb 1st) John Steppling connects all of the dots and how they have coalesced to form a very dark unstoppable pattern.

    We are of course now living in a 24/7 surveillance state. A topic which is the title of another truth-telling new book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.
    Shoshana has done her homework.

    • Fickle Pickle says

      P S re the situation in Venezuela I much prefer the various explanations available on the Counterpunch which in one way or another describe how the Venezuelan government was systematically starved to death of gold and money by the capitalist powers that be.

      • neoteny says

        how the Venezuelan government was systematically starved to death of […] money by the capitalist powers

        The Venezuelan government printed so many bolivars that they have hyperinflation: hardly a sign of being starved of money. Of course the Venezuelan people are starved of good money, but the fault for that firmly belongs to the Venezuelan government which destroyed the purchasing power of the national currency in order to finance its socialist policies. (Inflation is a tax on people who hold national currency: and it is a tax which can not be evaded in any manner.)

  42. Pierre Pendre says

    Socialism proposes that the individual pool his sovereignty in the collective for the common good. The more personal freedom it asks him to give up, the more he has to be coerced, the more he is coerced, the more he resists either passively or, eventually, actively.

    The socialism with a human face promised by Dubcek and Chavez and their admirers was always either a fantasy or a lie. Socialism with a human face is the social democracy we have in the West which is a compromise between capitalism and pure socialism that works reasonably well despite the continuing tensions between them. Inevitably, these are in part economic – how the pie shared – but also because social democracy needs to be grounded in genuine democracy and increasingly dirigiste politicians are constantly trying to remove themselves from democratic control both domestically and through transnational bodies like the EU.

    China is the exception, so far, to the general rule that you cannot have economic freedom without creating a demand for political freedom. But China’s state capitalist entrepreneurial class know that the party retains the power to close them down overnight if a political crisis should require it.

    All this is a long way from Venezuela where Chavez ran what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her admirers would call a “moral” economy with pre-ordained results. Both Marx and Lenin mistook the side which would inevitably be the victim of its internal contradictions.

  43. Good piece. Seeking the truth is a very good idea. But a suggestion: separate religion from politics. Extremists occur in all walks of life, and not everything is about religion.

  44. “If the U.S. topples Vz [Venezuela],” he wrote, “I will hold you responsible.”

    Your friend apparently conflates an entire nation with the people who control its government. What a quaint 18th-century notion. It’s what gave us the American and French Revolutions

  45. Sardonicus says

    I would be more sympathetic if you had spotted that the ideologies you’ve wasted your life on started decades ago -and despite history, you still didn’t learn. True Believers were ever thus. Good that the penny dropped – but how long has this taken? Ever had the feeling you were had?

  46. Patricia says

    Thanks for this article. I am amazed at how many comments are not aimed directly at the article but seem to be a ‘Battle of the Trolls’.

  47. Daniel F Wendelborn says

    “1 Considerable confusion surrounds the definitions of “socialism” and “capitalism.” Here, I am using “socialism” to mean a system in which the state destroys the market and takes control of all capital, as well as the production and distribution of goods and services. I am using “capitalism” here to refer to a market economy in which the state, as a disinterested party, or a “referee,” sets guidelines for markets but allows private actors to own and use capital to produce and distribute goods and services.”

    We should stop using the word Capitalism. It is really just liberty and freedom. Men left to their own tendencies will trade goods and services to benefit themselves. That is how wealth is created. That’s why controlled economies don’t create wealth but destroy it.

  48. Dom Macchiaroli says

    If only there were a way to force the people who advocate socialism to actually have to live under it. The best part of this piece was the quote from Damian Prat. Imagine the arrogance of people from a free and rich nation (US) traveling abroad to promote dictatorship. Famous American/European lefties did it in Nicaragua in the ’80’s, and now we have modern Democrat party jackasses doing it again. At least this author seems to have seen the light. I hope so. And for those of you on this thread who still believe in the bloodstained virtues of Marxist douchebaggery; go spend a year in Caracas and let us know later how it went.

  49. RHJKing says

    I had to stop myself from laughing while reading this article, though the occasional guffaw did escape. I can’t help but think of the author’s intellectual history as being tragi-comic, if ‘tragic’ can be read as gullible.

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  51. Mighty Whig says

    Many Venezuelans were deceived and continue to be. They really thought that the oil could pay for everything, and if they were rich, it was because they were being robbed.

    • TheSnark says

      They were robbed; by their Chavanista leadership.

      I know people in the international luxury goods business. After a beer or two, they will tell you their best market in Latin America is Venezuela. And that is a country whose GDP had dropped 50% in the past few years, there is no medicine available, and 2-3 million citizens have fled the country.

      • Gringo says

        I know people in the international luxury goods business. After a beer or two, they will tell you their best market in Latin America is Venezuela.
        A neighbor of mine, whom I have known for 15 years, lived in Panama from 2008-2014. He told me he understood why Chavez had support in Venezuela: Venezuelans were the biggest customers of the leading luxury mall in Panama. Oh yes, the Chavez against the oligarchy narrative. I replied that a lot – maybe most- of those Venezuelans at the luxury mall in Panama were Chavista insiders. Enchufados. (Tr.: plugged in.)

        That was several years ago. That mall probably has a lot fewer Venezuelan customers today.

  52. A. D. White says

    Many thanks for your article about another really existing example of socialist paradise. I have been following these disasters for the past 65 years and have a library to show for it, including Igor Shafarevich’s 1983 book , “The Socialist Phenonmenon”. Keep up the good work. Is there a way I can help?

  53. Ken Gorrell says

    “…if socialism is designed to unite mankind, but all previous versions of socialism have failed to do so, then it follows that true socialism has yet to be successfully attempted.” No. It follows that the design is fatally flawed. Only a cult-addled mind could fail to understand that logic. There’s no shortage of them in the world, and the US public school system is a factory churning out more such.

  54. Thank you for this interesting and somewhat heartbreaking article, which reminded me a good deal of David Horowitz’s biography “Radical Son.” I always find it difficult to imagine what it would be like having some of my fundamental beliefs completely reversed, and I admire the courage of those who can accept the evidence when that is the result. I have not been faced with that kind of intellectual shock, but I have been forced to acknowledge that some of my lesser (but still important) beliefs are wrong. I used to think that there was an objective, Thomist “just price” in economics, and conceding that all prices are the result of subjective valuations after reading “Human Action” was difficult. The consolation is that the peace of remaining intellectually consistent is worth far more than the anxiety of trying to maintain contradictory values in the face of evidence.

  55. Excellent article and perhaps an even more interesting discussion! After reading all the comments, this is the humble contribution of somebody who was born in Venezuela and lived and studied its particular situation. First of all, neither Hugo Chávez nor Nicolás Maduro landed in Venezuela on parachutes. They are the end result of decades of a socialist mentality, typical of Latin America and particularly solid in Venezuela. Back in the 1930s, when a lot of people thought the future was in the hands of the great Soviet Union, my father and other leaders of Venezuelan political parties chose to follow the path of socialism and communism. Rómulo Betancourt, the most famous of them, wrote in his book “Venezuela, Política y Petróleo,” that Venezuela could provide an exception to the working class enduring the burden of a “primitive capital accumulation,” if the state took responsibility for an accelerated economic development based on the country’s oil wealth. This God-given wealth, in the form of a state-managed, rationally distributed rent, would allow the creation of an Utopian society without grave social conflicts, one in which increasing and well-spread benefits would keep the population (that he had conveniently defined as being unable to take care of itself) politically dormant but happy. The weak capitalist class that eventually prospered in such a system lived, like all the other classes in Venezuelan society, a parasitic existence thanks to government contracts and the ownership of inefficient industries protected from outside competition, a behavior quite unlike any other Western entrepreneur class. This new Venezuelan democracy, like most others in Latin America at the time, was based on the “dependency theory” formulated by the ex-President of Brazil, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, itself a retread of the crude Hobson-Lenin “center-dominates-periphery” theory of imperialism. The implementation of the theory was assigned to the disastrous ideas of the Argentinean economist Raúl Prebisch, who believed that severe tariffs on imports had to be put in place and the state had to take full responsibility for economic development. The icing on the cake was the seal of approval and the active support given to the system by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC/CEPAL), which at the time was populated by well-known left-wing economists and headed by none other than Raúl Prebisch himself. In other words, during the entire second half of the 20th century, while previously poorer countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong were busily and successfully developing under capitalist systems, often starting from zero, Venezuela suffered the worst-possible combination of 17th-century Mercantilism and 20th-century Marxism, as if Adam Smith had never been born. The Venezuelan political parties of the 20th century were all Marxist, either Communist or extreme left-wing socialist, with the exception of the Christian Democratic party (COPEI), of Catholic extraction, vaguely reformist, and whose previous versions (Movimiento de Acción Nacional, Acción Nacional) were modeled on the Spanish Corporativist and Catholic Falange Party rather than on the pro-capitalist German Christian Democratic party. I cannot overemphasize the importance of the historical fact that there existed no pro-capitalist political parties or influential pro-market economists in Venezuela during the entire 20th century. This is the womb that created Chávez and Maduro, and that informs practically all new Venezuelan leaders like Juan Guaidó.

    • Gringo says

      I cannot overemphasize the importance of the historical fact that there existed no pro-capitalist political parties or influential pro-market economists in Venezuela during the entire 20th century.

      As anecdotal support, it is not uncommon do find Venezuelans with Red-oriented first names which suggests to me that they were “red diaper babies” with Red parents. I was surprised to meet in Venezuela someone with a first name of Lenin. Vladimir Padrino López is the current Defense Minister for the Chavista government. The terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, was named for Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov – better known as Lenin. Carlos the Jackal was a confirmed red diaper baby who remained Red.

      Not all Venezuelan red diaper babies remain Red. Stalin González was an opposition student leader, and is now an opposition member of the National Assembly.

      • In my family there were two of those babies, myself Vladimir, and my deceased sister, Lidice named for the famous Czech village leveled by the Nazis.

        • Gringo says

          And like Stalin González, a red diaper baby who did not remain Red. Another famous Latino red diaper baby is the Chilean author Ariel Dorfman, whose parents named Vladimiro. Young Vladimiro added Ariel.

    • ga gamba says

      This is a very informative comments. Thanks.

      Others, don’t let the wall of text dissuade you from reading it.

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  60. “Why then, did so many decent people, whose ethics and intelligence and good intentions I greatly respected, continue to insist that the capitalist system needed to be eliminated and replaced with what had historically proven to be the inferior system of socialism?”

    Maybe your admittedly faulty judgment regarding the benefits of socialism extends to the “many decent people whose ethics and intelligence and good intentions” you greatly respected. After socialism’s record of failures, compiled over more than a century, its proponents can’t be considered both intelligent and well-intentioned at the same time. Sorry. That just doesn’t fly.

  61. Mike Donnigan says

    Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue discuss capitalism and free trade. An excerpt from an interview on the Phil Donahue Show in 1979.

    Transcript:

    Phil Donahue: When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries, when you see so few haves and so many have-nots, when you see the greed and the concentration of power, did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism and whether greed’s a good idea to run on?

    Milton Friedman: Well, first of all, tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed?
    You think Russia doesn’t run on greed?
    You think China doesn’t run on greed?
    What is greed?
    Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fellow who’s greedy.
    The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus.
    Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat.
    Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way.
    In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear that there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

    Phil Donahue: But it seems to reward not virtue as much as ability to manipulate the system.

    Milton Friedman: And what does reward virtue?
    Do you think the communist commissar rewards virtue?
    Do you think Hitler rewarded virtue?
    Do you think American presidents reward virtue?
    Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of their political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest?
    You know, I think you’re taking a lot of things for granted. Just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us.

  62. Marian Hennings says

    Most of the comments seem to be about communism rather than democratic socialism. The latter has functioned well in the Scandinavian countries. I also think it unfair to entirely fault socialism in such countries as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, and some of the Arab governments which attempted such economic measures. All of those governments were actively opposed by a hostile US via sanctions, boycotts, and pressure upon US allies to join the US in its antagonism. Had the US not mounted such strong opposition, would those countries have suffered from the shortages of goods that they have? It is impossible to truly judge how countries such as Cuba would have done had the US been more neutral in its approach to them. It is true that there has been governmental mismanagement and corruption under socialist governments. This is also true of capitalist systems. Some socialist measures have been successful in the US, such as public utility districts and public institution such as fire districts, libraries, and schools. We don’t call these institutions socialist in the US, but they really are in their mode of funding and operation.

    • Gringo says

      I also think it unfair to entirely fault socialism in such countries as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, and some of the Arab governments which attempted such economic measures. All of those governments were actively opposed by a hostile US via sanctions, boycotts, and pressure upon US allies to join the US in its antagonism. Had the US not mounted such strong opposition, would those countries have suffered from the shortages of goods that they have?

      Let’s see how milk production in Cuba compares to Latin America’s milk production, (fresh cow milk)

      From 1961 to 2017, milk production increased 53% in Cuba, compared with an increase of 333% in Latin America. From 2000-2013, nearly half (49.9%) of Cuba’s milk supply was imported. (Currently, FAO doesn’t have import data beyond 2013.)

      Not even the PSF (Pendejos sin Fronteras- idiots beyond borders/frontiers) have told us that the CIA was shooting the descendants of Ubre Blanca, a.k.a. Fidel’s wonder cow. . 🙂 This stagnation of milk production in Cuba is entirely the responsibility of the Castro regime. Had Cuba’s milk production increased from 1961 to 2017 as much as milk production increased in Latin America during that time, it would have produced about 1.5 million metric tons of milk in 2017 – while Cuba’s actual milk production in 2017 was about a third of that- 536 thousand metric tons.

      1961 Milk Production, Metric tons 1961 and 2017.
      Cuba 1961 350,000
      Cuba 2017 536,400
      Latin America 1961 18,195,026
      Latin America 2017 78,717,490

      Cuba’s milk production in 2017 was 53% greater than it was in 1961. Latin America’s milk production in 2017 was 333% greater than it was in 1961.

      2017 milk production divided by 1961 milk production.
      Cuba 1.53
      Latin America 4.33

      Milk production: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QL Livestock Primary: Milk [whole fresh cow]: Production

      Milk imports: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FBS Food Balance Sheets: Milk excluding butter

    • Well said, Marian, all Europeans will agree with you on this, even the “liberals” (=conservatives), however, I fear this is quite different in the US, where socialism is more or less similar to communism and other infernal inventions (just read only Gringo’s milk figures here below). Alas, that’s how it is.

      • It isn’t similar of course, but it is felt as similar, and that’s what counts these days. And it is hell, also felt as such. But Europeans don’t feel it like that. I still remember very well, some time ago, my visit as a student to the US. What the hell is this, I thought, everywhere people sleeping on the streets and begging for a dime. “Haven’t eaten for two days, please give me a dime”!
        I was really flabbergasted, because, had never read about such situations in the newspapers at home. So, Marian, well said!

    • Gringo says

      I also think it unfair to entirely fault socialism in such countries as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, and some of the Arab governments which attempted such economic measures. All of those governments were actively opposed by a hostile US via sanctions,

      When cwas elected in 1998, Venezuelan oil was selling for about $11/BBL. When he died in 2013, Venezuelan oil was selling for about $100/BBL. Even with this oil export revenue bonanza, Venezuela’s economic growth during the Chávez years was anemic- call it pathetic- compared to other countries.

      GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2011 international $), % growth 1998-2013
      East Asia & Pacific (excluding high income) 191.9%
      Upper middle income 110.3%
      South Asia 103.9%
      Low & middle income 91.9%
      World 44.3%
      Sub-Saharan Africa 42.4%
      Middle East & North Africa 31.8%
      Latin America & Caribbean 30.2%
      Venezuela 15.1%

      Chavista Venezuela’s pathetic economic performance during oil revenue boom times is in no way the responsibility of the US. This pathetic economic performance during oil revenue boom times also indicates that the Chavista economy was ill-equipped for lower oil prices. Mineral exporting countries such as Chile (copper) or Saudi Arabia (oil) tend to have rainy day funds to tide countries over when prices go down. It would appear that Chavista Venezuela spent its rainy day fund during the boom.

      Chavista Venezuela borrowed money during the days of $100 oil- not for investment- but to meet current expenses. Chavista Venezuela assumed that the price of oil would keep rising. Anyone familiar with the fluctuations in the price of oil since 1970 would realize that was a very foolish assumption.

      From 2013 to 2018, Venezuela’s per capita income fell 48.4%, from $ 17,980.52 to $9,261.78. As other oil-exporting countries haven’t had a similar decline in per capita income during that time, the fall in the price of oil cannot be blamed for Venezuela’s decline. The high price of oil masked a dysfunctions in Venezuela’s economy. The lower price of oil has exposed the dysfunctions in Venezuela’s economy.

      One example of a dysfunction would be that PDVSA went to pot after Chávez took control of it, such as reduced maintenance of equipment.After a rig fire near Anaco in 2007, I e-mailed an engineering consultant, who replied that in his inspection trips to Venezuela he had seen in recent visits a decided deterioration in equipment maintenance.

      Until 2019, US sanctions on Venezuela were basically sanctions placed on Chavista bigwigs. How are sanctions on a thief like Diosdao Cabello going to harm Venezuela’s economy? Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

      If you inform us that the US should be helping Venezuela, not applying sanctions, my reply is two-fold. In 1999, Venezuela suffered horrendous mudslides in Vargas that left 350,000 homeless. The US offered assistance. Chávez declined US assistance. For several years, Maduro has been refusing offers of medical or food assistance. It appears he may be changing, though.

      https://tinyurl.com/IMF-Venezuela (IMF: Purchasing power parity; 2011 international dollar)

      https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.KD

    • Gringo says

      I also think it unfair to entirely fault socialism in such countries as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, and some of the Arab governments which attempted such economic measures. All of those governments were actively opposed by a hostile US via sanctions,

      Latin American self-proclaimed Socialist/Marxist regimes don’t do agriculture well at all. “Land reform” coupled with government controls- usually not just price controls- decimate agricultural production. Can’t blame the US for that.

      Crops (PIN) Per Capita production index
      From 1998 to 2016 declined 35.7% in Venezuela
      From 1961 to 2016 declined 32.2% in Cuba
      From 1978 to 1979 declined 10.6% in Nicaragua
      From 1978 to 1980 declined 46.1% in Nicaragua
      From 1978 to 1989 declined 51.2% in Nicaragua

      From 2014 to 2017, cereals production in Venezuela- here corn and rice- declined 59%.

      In Nicaragua, the decline in crop production from 1978 to 1979 could be attributed to the insurrection against Somoza, which was over by July, 1979. There was a bigger decline from 1979 to 1980, during peacetime, when Sandinista policies on land reform and price controls took effect. Also note the collapse in agricultural production in 1980 took place when President Carter was making all efforts he could at having good relations with the Sandinistas.

      FAO Stat: Production Indices Net per capita Production Index Number (2004-2006 = 100)_Crops (PIN)

      http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QI
      http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#country/236 Venezuela cereals production 2014-2017

    • Peter says

      https://www.thelocal.dk/20151101/danish-pm-in-us-denmark-is-not-socialist

      “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” (Danish PM) Rasmussen said.

      “The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish,” he added.

      Statements that Nordic countries are examples of “Democratic Socialism” are deliberate disinformation spread by the radical left as well as the shortsighted tea-party conservatives in the US, that do not realise they are directly supporting the leftist propaganda.

      In Cuba, market economy was abolished and a one party dictatorship introduced. Yes, there were US sanctions, but there was also an enormous amount of Soviet and later Venezuelan aid.

      In Venezuela, price controls destroyed the agriculture. Market economy and democracy were severely limited by Chavez. Maduro effectively took all the power from the National Assembly – a power grab and destruction of parliamentary democracy. Then the Spanish Marxist professor Alfredo Serrano, the adviser to Maduro, devastated the markets in Venezuela even more. Until recently, the sanctions on Venezuela were only for individuals. Are you blaming Barrack Obama for destroying Venezuela?

      • Did you find out more about this Serrano , Peter? He must have been influenced by the libertarian movements and ideas of the Catalunya civil war epoque, and by anarchist Emma Goldman. Any more ideas about that?? I like the Latins, and feel for them, so different of our besognes here in Europe, why are we so privileged with our socioeconomis and politics??

    • As Peter’s comment show, I think you’re confusing the economic system of all countries in the region with the ideology of most of their political parties.

  63. Some here above remarked that there never was a pro-capitalist tradition in Venezuela, as if there is nothing on earth as just capitalism and socialism. I have worked about 10 yrs in Latin American countries, and by learning more of their history and the meaning of their national days, I got aware that their history is rather different as the ones of Europe, US and the Common-world.
    Common history there is the encomienda and hacienda system, with remnants still seen in many corners and more distant areas. A landlord (often absentee, living like a king in a city now) having 1000s and 1000s of acres of pasture, ranchos, arable land and unused or uncultivated lands. And also 100s of campesinos toiling with a simple hoe, a mule and machete in those fields, or playing the cowboy (vaquero in their language). The Mexican revolution of 1910 was a bloody response to this unfair and unequal situation (was it capitalism? No, I don’t think so, but stains of it, certainly).

    In most Latin American nations, this system has been partially or mostly overcome, but the history is still in the veins of the children and grandchildren of both, lords and campesinos, and also the animosity and revenge feelings. And via Google, the existing Venezuelan ranches (at least, uptil say 2010) of some of those lords and politicians can still be traced, see former essays on Venezuela on Q., aumented with the long comments with statistics of Gringo. I wouldn’t be surprised to encounter him (or look-alike) with hat and guayabera on a horse on such a ranch.

    • The history of Latin America is heavily determined by Spanish absolutism and its evolution as caudillismo. For example, Venezuela has had only about 43 years of democracy out of 200 as an independent country. The rest is civil wars, warlords, authoritarian regimes, and dictatorships. All that, in my opinion, can only reinforce the socialist and statist tendencies of all Latin American countries today.

      And we’re discussing capitalism and socialism because that’s the main economic and political division of practically all countries since the Enlightenment.

      • I wonder what Marx would have said about the controversies of hacendados and campesinos in Latin America. We know what he said about capitalism and proletarians, he didn’t know very well what to do with the Russian peasants, but with the situation and the future in South and Middle America? Too far away from his own Rheinland and London factories he studied so well, he was right to start with the nearby, of course.
        What I saw in Peru, many young academians in their idealistic activism were rather Marxist, some even joined the Sendero Luminoso, but is that model the most apt to change things there??
        Also Adam Smith, of course, not very apt either, a model more for industrial processes and city working class.

        Tsjto delat? (what to do??) as Lenin asked himself, yes what, in Venezuela!

        This morning, I googled again some of those huge ranches, such as El Frio, 80.000 has, since over 100 yrs in the hands of family Maldonado, 20.000 heads of cattle and an ecoturist camp with scientific programmes to save llanos animals of extinction. What to do? Chavez simply expropriated the farm and park in 2009, the campesinos, new owners, slaughtered all the animals (nobody knows where the meat went) and the farm and turist camp is now abandoned and in ruins. Chavez wanted to grow rice there, but agronomists warned him for the bad, acid soils.He didn’t listen, flew in Chinese agriculturists to help him, but no bushel rice is growing there right now, since some 15 yrs Venezuela stopped exporting rice and started importing it massively ever since, what to do? Compared with Stalin, absolutely children’s work, only chaos, but less casualties, yes, maybe.

        • I now learn that the Maldonados were not the original owners of the possession, this was general Jose Antonio Paez. BTW, besides this good of 80.000 ha, he also had 4 other similar landgoods, I wonder whether such ridiculous concentration of soils and properties in a few hands is not one of the reasons of all that turmoil down there. In Mexico, this was solved after the revolution of 1910 by the Ejido system, Venezuela never had something similar??

    • Gringo says

      At a company cafeteria, I once got into a conversation about Latin America’s economic “backwardness” compared to the US. I made the point that over the centuries in Latin America, the big landowners had a virtual monopoly on the capital available for investment. As the big landowners already had a very comfortable life- “strumming guitars on the porches of their haciendas” comes to mind- they didn’t need more money. Investing and making more money- that was for vulgar Gringos.

      One fellow employee in the conversation was from Peru. He didn’t like my analysis- not at all. It was the exploiting Gringos that were the cause- and Velasco drove them out of Peru. (That would refer to oil nationalization, among others.)
      I later found out that when a college student in Peru, he drove his auto to college. That would definitely have placed him in the economic elite. His Gringa wife also had connections to the economic elite , as he told me of attending the wedding of one of her friends- in the DuPont family.
      Conclusion: economic elite scapegoating the Gringos to take the heat off the elite.

      • @Gringo: A clash of Karl Marx-Simon Bolivar, made possible by a time machine. BTW, that Bolivar granted the title deed of the 80.000 ha ” Hato” El Frio to the Maldonados (?), as a military present for their services. Chavez, after 200 yrs, expropriated his ranch then again, the result: hato el Frio se fue a la………

        • Gringo says

          I wonder what Marx would have said about the controversies of hacendados and campesinos in Latin America.

          Most of this article is behind a paywall. Ronaldo Munck , “Marx and Latin America,” (Review of Marx y América Latina by Aricó José)., Bulletin of Latin American Resesarch, Jan 1984.
          It is the general ‘crisis of Marxism’ which has created the space for a critical re-examination of Marx’s writings on Latin America which were for a long time a source of acute embarrassment for the continent’s Marxists. Indeed, while Marx and Engles may have made mistakes on India and other matters, they failed almost totally to understand Latin America…….

          On the occasion of the United States invasion of Mexico Engels wrote:

          We have witnessed the conquest of Mexico and have rejoiced at it…It is to the interests of its own development that Mexico will in the future be placed under the tutelage of the United States.

          The reason for this was that the United States represented the advance of capitalism. In a later article, which bordered on the racist, Engels was to expand on the benefits of ‘civilization’ to the Mexicans.

          And will Bakunin accuse the Americans of a ‘war of conquest’ , which although it deals a severe blow to his theory based on ‘justice and humanity’, was nevertheless waged wholly and solely in the interests of civilization? Or is it perhaps unfortunate that splendid California has been taken away from the lazy Mexicans, who could not do anything with i?…the energetic Yankees by rapid exploitation of the California gold mines will increase the means of circulation, in a few years will concentrate a dense

          Ironic that while Hugo Chavez worshiped Bolivar- such as changing Venezuelan to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela- he confiscated land that Bolivar deeded to someone.

          • It’s clear, Gringo, Latin America simply did not fit in the Hegelian evolution of socioeconomics as known so well from early industrial Europe, but, as said before, neither did peasant life of Russia (85% of population in WW-I).Interesting, especialy in our time of identities and newly oppressed. What will become of Venezuela now? Don’t look at the Western model, Ga.G. warns us, he might be right(or sarcastic?), but I wonder whether Trump, Bolsonaro and Trudeau will agree. I put my hope on Mexico, also Latin, hesitating and not jumping for Guaido, maybe the best bet. Mexico has some experience with Latin revolutions, the US not at all.

  64. Gringo says

    I wonder what Marx would have said about the controversies of hacendados and campesinos in Latin America.

    When I was working in Venezuela, I purchased a book in a cafe that also had a small rack of books for sale. Food and food for thought at the same place. What a country! 🙂

    The book I purchased was Carlos Rangel’s Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario (From the Good Savage to the Good Revolutionary) which is one of the best books I have ever read. The book helped fill out the disconnect I between what I had observed on the ground in Latin America and the “progressive” narrative I had absorbed at university.

    Rangel points out that the Third World narrative where producers of raw materials get screwed by manufacturers who utilize those raw materials originated with slaveholders in the Southern US. In 1816,Congress passed a tariff on imported textiles that both the South and New England supported. Southern supporters of the tariff reasonably concluded that the South would have a cost advantage in turning raw cotton into textile: lower transport costs and lower energy costs. Lower transport costs were obvious.The lower energy costs came from the fall line from the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain having waterfalls of higher elevation than were found in New England. It didn’t turn out that way. New England textile mills won out. This led to the Southern narrative that New England was robbing the South of its wealth.

    The book is available in translation at Google Books.The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States, The book title changed in translation- just like what often happens in the movies.

      • Thanks Gringo, yes, appropriate thoughts, privileges and dependency, iso individual responsability, so true! I see also his ties with the Swiss Management Center, why, I ask myself, always this looking to Europe and the West, is a Latin development, an own way not possible? We need a new Simon Bolivar, or Centaur Llanero (like General Paez, who ended his life in exile in NwYork). I think, also most of the Venezuelan commenters here are writing from some safe spot in the West, and not in their own country! It’s a pity!

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