Communism/Socialism is an idea whose time has always come, ever-fresh and ever-new. It keeps rearing its ugly head wearing a new mask, like some vampire who keeps returning in a new guise. But can’t we finally drive a stake through its wretched heart?
Robert Stacy McCain writes an essay describing the latest renaissance of the idea that persists in the face of all empirical evidence to the contrary, and which was correctly critiqued by the economist Ludwig von Mises not long after the soviets came to power:
In his classic work Socialism, Mises explained that the attempt to replace the market system with central economic planning could not succeed, because the planners could not possibly have the information necessary to make all the decisions which, in a market economy, are made by individuals whose needs and desires are reflected in prices: “The problem of economic calculation is the fundamental problem of Socialism.”
“Everything brought forward in favour of Socialism during the last hundred years,” Mises wrote in 1922, “in thousands of writings and speeches, all the blood which has been spilt by the supporters of Socialism, cannot make Socialism workable. …. Socialist writers may continue to publish books about the decay of Capitalism and the coming of the socialist millennium; they may paint the evils of Capitalism in lurid colours and contrast with them an enticing picture of the blessings of a socialist society; their writings may continue to impress the thoughtless — but all this cannot alter the fate of the socialist idea.”
The rest of the McCain article is worth reading. My response is that this persistence of the idea of socialism/Communism despite evidence of its awfulness when put into practice in the real world should not be at all surprising. And I don’t think we’ll ever find the proper stake to drive into its still-beating heart, because the nature of this beast is that it represents an idea with strong appeal to a vast number of human beings. No amount of empirical or historical evidence can permanently teach enough people otherwise.
The rhetoric of Socialism/Communism has intrinsic appeal to certain groups of people and some members of each group are always likely to fall under its spell: the guilt-ridden wealthy and/or their even-more-guilt-ridden spawn, the poor who feel they’ve been screwed by society, the politically and economically naive intelligentsia who feel they know better than others, the religious and/or idealistic who want everyone to be loving and good and selfless, and those who just like the idea of power and control over others and plan to be the ones in charge.
Combine all that natural appeal with the undeniable propagandist skill of the left—including their willingness to lie in the most brazen manner—and you have an even greater effect. And then combine all of that with ignorance of history and economics, our culture’s reluctance to teach the young our good points and its eagerness to harp on our bad ones, and the fact that people only tend to really learn something through bitter and personal experience.
The wonder is that more people don’t believe that socialism/Commmunism is the answer to the world’s prayers, not that so many succumb to it in the first place. Never imagine that the fight, especially in the intellectual and educational and propaganda spheres, can be over. It would be too bad if each generation had to learn the lesson through personal suffering rather than in the realm of ideas.