The main idea of this book is to review ideas of socialism and communism in their contemporary form starting with Gracchus Babeuf during French revolution, their implementation in various forms during XX century, their massive crash by the end of this century, and finally their partial resurrection in our time. The important and very interesting feature of this book is allocation of lots of space to individuals who created and promoted these ideas, their background, psychology, and behavior, all of which helps understand reasons for these ideas’ genesis and their attractiveness for some people.
1 Conspiracy of Equals: Babeuf plots a revolution
Author begins the story o socialism by describing celebration in 1911 the 151th anniversary of the birth of François-Noël Babeuf, who called himself Gracchus – the first murderer and martyr of contemporary socialist idea. Author notes that Babeuf was a natural product of the French revolution, which added to ideas of Enlightenment as they were imbedded in American revolution the idea of use government violence to enforce “equality”. Author retells the story of Babeuf’s conspiracy that included plans for mass terror even more expansive than Jacobins, failure of this conspiracy, and notes a very interesting feature of consequences: despite execution of Babeuf himself, other conspirators were treated with unusual compassion and get away much easier than other, non-ideological and non-socialist murderers. For the next two century this specific treatment of ideological killers was demonstrated great many times in various countries and circumstances. Practically all muss murdering dictators earlier in their careers were caught in treasonous and often murderous acts, tried in courts of law, lightly sentenced and later freed, only to kill huge numbers of people in the name of socialism when they got to power. The names are well known: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, and quite a few of others.
2 New Harmony: Owen conducts an experiment
In this chapter author describes in details the history of attempt to implement socialism on voluntary basis as superior economic system that would provide much better returns on labor and assure prosperity for community founded on socialist principles. This attempt was conducted in America by rich British manufacturer Robert Owen who provided ideological and practical directions supported by generous financing. This experiment demonstrated, and very clearly indeed, that socialism, as economic system and foundation of society, fails miserably and could not be sustained on voluntary basis.
3 Scientific Socialism: Engels interprets the oracle
This chapter is about Marx and Engels, their somewhat host / parasite type of cooperation, and successful attempt to present ideas of socialism as science. Author describes their lives, activities, and the most important works. Author goes in a bit of details into Marx’s anti-Semitism and Engels’ business history, but concentrates mainly on their relationship as leader and sidekick, even if Engels was somewhat more effective writer and capable individual, albeit self-denigrated in relation to Marx. Author then describes a very interesting phenomenon of Marx work, especially Das Kapital becoming “scientific” foundation of revolutionary movement, even if hardly anybody actually read it, and those who did were unimpressed. Author then reviews history of this movement’s organizational forms from its inception as International in 1860 to transformation into national Social-Democratic parties all over the Europe by the end of XIX century. Unlike typical approach, author stress role of Engels:” But it was Engels who formulated and popularized Marxism and who launched the Marxist movement. He was Moses to Marx’s God, Mohammed to Marx’s Allah. He was the High Priest and Marx the Oracle. “Marx stood higher, saw farther,” said Engels. Perhaps he did. But it was Engels who told the world what Marx saw, spreading the message that shaped the history of the dawning century.”
4 What Is to Be Done? Bernstein develops doubts
In this chapter author completes history of socialism as at least somewhat legitimate scientific theory by reviewing history of early XX century when it became quite obvious that no socialist revolution in in the most developed countries is forthcoming, mainly because instead of pauperization of working class, predicted by Marx, that would lead to social explosion something quite opposite happened: formation of middle class that included most of high and middle qualified workers that enjoyed increasing prosperity consumption levels more and more comparable with consumption levels of business owners. This led to ideological crisis of socialism expressed in work of Bernstein. It divided socialist movement into 3 different ways: evolutionary socialism of social democrats that become dominant in democracies of Western Europe seeking political power via election in order move society to socialism by slowly shifting production to government-controlled hierarchies that would demonstrate socialism’s superiority over capitalism, unionist movement that become dominant in America seeking higher levels of redistribution of wealth generated within capitalist economy, and communist movement, which later become dominant in Russia, China, and Eastern Europe, seeking power by all means necessary in order to use this power without any ethical, moral, or humane considerations to impose socialism on people, in process physically eliminating everybody who happens to be on the way.
In this part author reviews four cases of real-life implementation of socialist ideas during XX century all of them failing after causing tens of millions of deaths and unaccountable amount of pain and suffering.
5 Real Existing Socialism: Lenin seizes power
This chapter is about the most cruel and bloody form of socialism implemented by Lenin and Communist party on territory of Russian Empire that featured mass executions, concentration camps, mass starvation, and elimination of all and any individual freedoms developed during Enlightenment period of European history. It was probably the most consistent and logical implementation of ideas of public property on means of production when “public” meant the hierarchy of communist party functionaries, while “means of production” included just about everything, including bodies of individuals.
6 Fascism: Mussolini becomes a heretic
This chapter describes another and generally more humane form of socialism – fascism as it was implemented in Italy by Mussolini. The “taking overall control over means of production” in fascistic system is pretty much limited to subordination of businesses to direction from government without expropriation of private property. Fascism was generally satisfied with unchallenged political power via mass indoctrination and violent suppression of dissent, control over direction of country development usually meaning military development and aggression, and generally not interfered with day-to-day business activities, while promoting extensive welfare state. Author also briefly discusses another more virulent form of fascism – Nazis in Germany whose contribution was extreme form of racism and especially murderous anti-Semitism, but other than that it was not very different from Italian fascism in organization of society and its productive activities.
7 Social Democracy: Attlee takes the slow road
This chapter presents history of partial implementation of socialism in highly developed democratic state – UK. Unlike communism and fascism this form of socialism retained individual freedoms and democratic elections of leadership, limited by governmental interferes into great many areas of life. The key leader of this implementation was Clement Attlee and author allocates quite a bit of space to this personality. Author also discusses philosophical underpinning of this form of socialism that came from works of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their movement: Fabians. Unlike fascism and communism, this form of socialism deprived of ability to use mass violence to stay in power, was very vulnerable to public opinion and consequently subject to defeat in democratic elections, which duly happened just five years after socialists took power.
8 Ujamaa: Nyerere forges a synthesis
The final example of implementation of socialism reviewed in this book is Ujamaa – authoritarian socialism implemented in Tanzania in 1960-70s by unusually uncorrupt African product of western educational system – Nyerere. As usual economically this form socialism as any other before it led to disaster, even if it received unusually high level of financial support from all sides of Cold War: Western government bureaucracies, Soviet, and Chinese communists. Here how author characterizes this support: “Never before had all the varieties of socialists—Swedish, Israeli, Chinese, East German, American, Cuban, British, Indian—converged so hopefully around a single national experiment. Yet such were the vicissitudes of the Cold War that the capitalist world did not turn its back on Tanzania either. Not only did the World Bank single out Tanzania for special generosity, but the flow of aid from the major Western powers—the United States, the United Kingdom, West Germany—resumed sooner or later after each rupture in relations. In all, Tanzania emerged from its declaration of self-reliance as Africa’s largest per capita recipient of foreign assistance.”
It is hard to imagine more beneficial opportunities for development, but socialism did what it does best: destroyed economy and made people poor and miserable.
9 Union Card: Gompers and Meany hear a different drummer
In this chapter author retells the story of American union movement, its leaders such as Samuel Gompers and George Meany, and their successful struggle against communism. These people correctly understood that communism means enslavement of working class rather than liberation. Author also looks at one of the most effective union fighters against communism – former socialist Jay Lovestone. Not all of American Union leaders were against communism and, with help of CIO leader John Lewis, communists did play a significant role in unions, but they had never been able to take unions completely over. At the end, even if by 1970s most of humanity lived under some form of socialism, it never took hold in America and as consequence eventually failed in most other countries.
10 Perestroika and Modernization: Deng and Gorbachev repeal communism
This chapter is about fall of communism in Soviet Union and its survival in greatly modified form in China. The key difference was in leadership, which in the Soviet Union consistent of men who grow up within communist system and somehow managed to believe its own propaganda about this system economic superiority and inherently humane character. Gorbachev and his team saw system saturated with lies and corruption, but believed that it was deviation from the true nature of the socialism and impediment to its effective working, so if one removes suppression and propaganda, the socialism’s advantages would become evident and their country hugely prosperous. Dan Xiaoping had no such illusions. He understood the true character of communism as corrupted system based on violence and had no hesitation in using massive violence to sustain this system. Dan also understood that economically socialism is complete failure, so political socialism needed economic capitalism to survive. Consequently, Dan masterly used the same policy as Lenin’s NEP on the international level and huge scale, assuring continuation of the system for another 50 years.
11 The Party of Business: Blair redefines social democracy
In this chapter author reviews the same period of “end of history” when socialism, as economic system, was discredited and pretty much abandoned, based on developments in Western Europe where old democratic socialist parties pretty much moved on to the welfare system, away from their old objective of government taking over means of production to objective of government taking bigger part of wealth produced by capitalist economy and partially controlling this economy via massive regulatory interference.
12 The Kibbutz Goes to Market
In this chapter author reviews the story of one and only known temporary successful socialist experiment – Israeli kibbutz. There are some very unique features that made it possible: strong socialist ideology of founders, external deadly thread, and urgent need for survival. Even so, this lasted at most for two generations after which economic inefficiency of socialism and its inhumanity expressed in constant subjugation of individual to collective made kibbutz economically uncompetitive and psychologically unacceptable for children and grandchildren of founders.
13 Epilogue: Rising from the Ashes
The epilogue discusses current resurrection of socialism partially based on success of Chinese communist party in exploiting Western capitalist economies by providing cheap and politically suppressed labor combined with ecological neglect in exchange for technology and investment. It was hugely supported by ideological fervor developed within educational and intellectual areas of Western world when new generation deprived of knowledge of history became victims of government supported, highly credentialled, and parasitic elite promoting socialism.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is one of the most complete and detailed works on history of socialism as ideology and as expression of ideology of great many intellectuals of the last 200 years who developed this ideology as counterweight to capitalist system that they considered inhumane and exploratory. From my point of view, it is the natural development of humanity similar to development of other religious movement and based mainly on achievement of level of productivity when significant number of people could obtain resources from others without doing anything productive themselves. The wealth redistribution away from these others could be based only on combination of violence and propaganda that would support such organization of society that would suppress any resistance to redistribution.
The way it is done features convincing people that it is the most efficient way to proceed economically and eliminating or at least suppressing those who are not convincible enough. It is obviously quite effective ideology and its previous success proves this. However, the downside of this system’s being unworkable is unsurmountable barrier, which was demonstrated many times over. I think current resurrection is temporary and will go down crashing with failure of Chinese socialism that is going to happen as soon as western elite recognize that continuation of their support for China’s parasitic success could lead to their subordination to Chinese elite – the future they will definitely find unacceptable. The coming cutting off China from western investment, technology, and markets would probably cause elimination of communist rule and, with it the final nail in the coffin of “public ownership of means of production”. However, it would not eliminate idea of massive redistribution of wealth because with increase automatization fewer and fewer humans needed to produce all goods and services required so intellectuals who do not produce anything really required by anybody would continue coming up with variety of ideas justifying such redistribution.