Essay #6: The Past Few Days… The Great Socialism Debate!
I’ve noted with growing alarm, the increase in popularity of Socialism in America. I thought it might be a good idea to see what ACTUAL people think about it, so I’ve been posting some essays I’ve written over the past few years for both on- and off-line publications. I wanted to try to understand why this ghoulish belief system is gaining purchase in America, after its abysmal record around the world.
What I found was that, largely, people DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS, or what it’s done around the world. Incredible, given the fact that it’s been THE dominant ideology worldwide for the past century (and, I’d argue, all of history). Even MORE incredible given the fact that many are aware of the depredations, if maybe not the SCOPE of those atrocities, committed by avowed Socialists in the name of Socialism!
Well, recently I’ve found some intrepid defenders of the murderous ideology, and I (and others) have gone toe-to-toe with them, which is a lot of fun for me. But, a third person — the great Kevin D. Williamson — has come into the fray, unbeknownst to him! The interchange has been instructive, and I recount it below.
John Jones (not his real name) and I have been going back and forth about Socialism for a few days now. During that exchange, I offered a piece by the wonderful writer and thinker, Kevin D. Williamson of National Review. (You’ll soon see that it’s as if the great Williamson and I have been plotting this whole thing out! Or, HAVE we?!?!? [Spoilers: we haven’t. KDW’s never heard of me, darn it! Or… HAS he? 🙂 ])
The interchange has been the following:
- One defender of Socialism has been adamant that Socialism is, according to him, what the dictionary says it is, and as soon as it deviates from that definition, it’s no longer Socialism. Note: this is giving this critic a LOT more credit than he deserves. He’s trying to say that Socialism is all the good things he says it is, but when ACTUAL SOCIALISTS implement Socialism, and it goes off the rails, as it ALWAYS has, well they were wrong and weren’t really Socialists all along. Presumably, they’re some OTHER “ist,” which John doesn’t name. John’s view of Socialism is very theoretical and, he insists, as soon as a society deviates from his theory, it’s not Socialism anymore.) John’s all about the THEORY of Socialism.
- I’ve been pointing to the REALITY of Socialism. My point has been that EVERY TIME that avowed Socialists have attained power in a land where they were completely free to implement (<– key phrase there, if John is keen enough to pick up on it) their vision of Socialism, the result has been: death (by actual state-sponsored murder) on a massive scale, impoverishment of the people on an even more massive scale, and the complete eradication of anything even remotely resembling human rights. Imagine, if you will, a pack of wild, hungry dogs with no place to turn for food — eventually they turn on each other. This has been the REALITY of Socialism.
So, our critic has insisted: it’s the THEORY, man! I’ve insisted: it’s the REALITY, man!
In essence, our naysayer came along and said, “I don’t WANNA argue on THAT turf, I WANNA argue on MY turf!” Fair enough, but, sorry… no. In fairness, I wrote the ORIGINAL essay, thereby ESTABLISHING the “turf” on which to argue. The critic insisted, so we’ve been talking past each other a good deal of the time.
I note further that for the defender of Socialism, Socialist theory contains no negatives, as REAL Socialist theory does. For example: Karl Marx insisted that Socialism — an intermediary condition on the way to Communism — REQUIRES a violent overthrow of the government, which, Marx insisted, would not give up its power without a fight. Socialism’s stalwart champion insists that HIS brand of Socialism would be: “The means of production are owned and regulated by the community as a whole, with democracy and good governance.” He doesn’t explain HOW you get there from here.
Well, we went back and forth on THAT one for a while! My contention was that “owned and regulated by the community as a whole,” are nothing more than sanitized words meaning: “owned by the GOVERNMENT, NOT by any people.” I continue to maintain this. Furthermore, his theory falls apart as soon as there is… BAD governance. Gee, I wonder if THAT’s ever happened! Or NO democracy. In other words, John’s view of Socialism is of something that can never exist and is, therefore, worthless. I’m sorry… not worthless. It’s fun to bat things like this around at a café on a Saturday morning among friends — things like unicorns, honest Democrats, the Tooth Fairy (I draw the line at Santa Claus: he DOES exist!)… but that’s about as far as it goes.
MY view, however, simply looks at the REALITY of what avowed Socialists have SAID and DONE. (Setting aside whether they were right or wrong, it’s safe to say they THOUGHT they were right, and they THOUGHT they were telling the truth, and they THOUGHT they were Socialists. And they were probably somewhere around as intellectually capable as John Jones!)
What Socialists (Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, et al) have SAID was that they were implementing Socialism. What they’ve DONE — every time, without exception — is ACTUALLY establish a primitive, totalitarian, death trap of a hellhole inside a nation-wide prison system that looked a LOT like an Auschwitz, or a Treblinka. These were the countries that built walls to keep the people IN, not to keep people OUT. The list of countries is long, the numbers murdered in the hundreds of millions, the numbers of impoverished and imprisoned in the billions.
Well, to circle back to the top, Kevin D. Williamson has done it again. Here: https://www.nationalreview.com/…/coronavirus-crisis…/
Williamson’s point is that this coronavirus thing has been REALLY bad, but it HAS had the GOOD effect, we hope, of shocking us out of complacency. He further suggests that this has been just a TASTE of what Venezuela has been suffering through for ten long years now under Socialism. A chronic toilet paper shortage, to name one famous example. But other shortages too. Gas in Venezuela is virtually free, because the country has vast oil reserves. However the only way to obtain ACTUAL gas it to buy it on the black market for about $10/gallon. Most Venezuelans make less than $10/month. And so on.
Here’s how Williamson describes that:
- “Gasoline is very cheap in Venezuela. You could buy all you wanted — if you could buy any at all.
The government sets the price of gasoline at almost $0.00 (on paper, about a penny for 26 gallons) and rigorously controls production and distribution of the stuff — and so, of course, it is virtually impossible for an ordinary Venezuelan to legally purchase gasoline. Instead, Venezuelans buy gasoline, if they can buy it at all, on the black market, where they pay some of the highest prices in the world, well over $10 a gallon in a country in which most people earn less than $10 a month”
Williamson scans the scene in Venezuela, and around the Socialist world, and sees little good there. Here’s his opening paragraph:
- “We may not yet have a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, but we are well on our way to extracting from that virus a vaccine against a far deadlier plague: socialism, which in the 20th century alone killed more than three times as many people as HIV did in the same time, which has killed about twice as many people as the Black Death killed in the 14th century, and which continues to afflict victims around the world from Cuba to North Korea to Venezuela.
As for our brief toilet-paper drought — Venezuela’s has been going on for a decade. Similar shortages have hit everything from rice to medicine to soap.”
Hey! I’VE used that expression — “a far deadlier plague: socialism” — before!
Williamson uses comparative values to express the fact that Socialism kills. I’ve tended to use: “120-140 million murdered.” Both get the point across, but I’VE made the further point that no SINGLE cause of death — except time — has killed MORE people than Socialism — in all of human history! And it managed to do that in 100 short years! A blink of the eye as far as history is concerned!
“Venezuela isn’t some eternal basket case that has always been poor and backwards. It was, not long ago, the wealthiest country in South America and one of the wealthiest countries in the whole of the Americas. It sits atop some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves and yet at the moment is reliant upon handouts from Tehran, which is, like much of the world, sitting on more oil than it currently knows what to do with. Venezuela was not laid low by natural disaster, lack of resources, or foreign occupation. It was laid low by socialism. And that socialism was not imposed on Venezuelans by a rabble of rag-tag guerrillas fighting their way out of the jungle — Venezuelans elected a popular socialist demagogue, Hugo Chávez, who was, for a time, the darling of American progressives from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. Boss Hugo imposed socialism, his successors kept the faith, and the average height of Venezuelans began to decline as they were ravaged by malnutrition to the point of eating zoo animals.”
American media analysts are mystified by what they call “the Venezuela Paradox”: The country has plenty of arable land, they’re awash in oil, yet all over the country, the people of the countryside starve and die, just as those in the cities are starving and dying. Williamson explains:
“There isn’t any paradox, and there isn’t any puzzle to solve. Socialism begets inefficiencies of various kinds, these lead to higher prices, higher prices are unpopular, socialist governments respond with price controls, and, hence, as one Venezuelan farmer tells the (Washington) Post, “There are no profits.” And so production [plummets] or comes to a complete halt. We have seen the same events play out in the same way dozens of times in dozens of different places. The story of socialism is always the same story: misery and deprivation — and, when people rebel against that misery and deprivation, repression and brutality.”
“The story of socialism is always the same story: misery and deprivation — and, when people rebel against that misery and deprivation, repression and brutality.” — This has been the crux of my running disagreement with John, who insists that… in THEORY Socialism works.
In theory. Great.
The question that history poses to the intrepid defenders of Socialism, like John Jones is: How many tens or hundreds of millions have to die before SOME Socialist SOMEWHERE finally gets it right? Or, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn posed the question (paraphrasing): At SOME point, don’t you finally have to admit that the problem is in the theory?
Williamson is, as I’ve mentioned, a GREAT writer. Well, a great writer is good at the production of haymakers: pithy phrases, long or short, that contain some number of knock-out caliber punches to make a point. Williamson never disappoints in this regard. Here’s one:
“There are many things that can disrupt the production and distribution of goods. A hurricane might do that for a while, as it did in parts of Texas and the rest of the country when Harvey drenched Houston and put an important gasoline pipeline out of commission. Not having easy access to retail gasoline for a few days was inconvenient — not having gasoline for months or years is something else entirely. Americans are pretty bent out of shape by the shortages some of us have seen during the coronavirus epidemic. We should think about that every time a Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promises us that socialism — and they embrace the word; it has not been pinned on them — will make us all better off, happier, more free, and more equal. (Equal to what?) It has been tried and tried and tried, and it has failed and failed and failed.”
Williamson ties the utter failure of Socialism in Venezuela to today’s America and the leading Socialist lights who have so bedazzled the media and the Democrat Party. He’s right, you know, no one is FORCING Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to accept the label of “Socialist,” these half-wits have willingly taken it on themselves! As Williamson points out: “It (Socialism) has been tried and tried and tried, and it has failed and failed and failed.”
At some point, don’t you have to admit that the problem may be with the theory? Williamson answers that question with the following:
“The reasons for that failure are well-understood and have been for a century. It isn’t lack of democracy, and it isn’t authoritarianism, although those are characteristic of socialist regimes. It isn’t that the bad people got into power, that they weren’t smart enough, that they weren’t good enough, that they didn’t genuinely care — socialism has been implemented by bullies and brutes, but it also has been implemented by intelligent and well-meaning people. As Willi Schlamm famously put it: The problem with capitalism is capitalists, but the problem with socialism is socialism. Specifically, the problem is central planning, which cuts off or distorts the most vital commodity in any economy: information, which is communicated by prices. That is true of socialism under Lenin or Stalin, it is true of socialism under Kim or Maduro or Castro, it is true under the socialism advocated by nice Ivy Leaguers writing in the New York Times, it is true of the socialism advocated by the new juche-lite anti-capitalists of the Right. It isn’t going to stop being true.”
Note the bit of red meat at the end for Trump-haters. It should be noted that Kevin D. Williamson has nothing but cold contempt for Donald J. Trump.
“Juche” is the name that the North Koreans give to THEIR Socialist system. It means, roughly, “self-reliance.” Its IMPLEMENTATION in North Korea has meant turning that nation into a nation-wide hellhole of misery, deprivation and death.
Kevin D. Williamson finishes his essay with a flourish, and another patented KDW haymaker: “In a free economy, there is uncertain prosperity; in a socialist economy, there is certain misery. That’s the choice.”
It’s very much worth your time to read the entire piece in National Review online (link at top), as it’s worth the time to read ALL that KDW writes!