Socialism Would Have Been Easy to Discredit, Had There Been Growth
Each time it was tried, they were rushed. Revolutionary leadership may be many things, but one thing they haven’t been historically is patient. There’s a whole lot of “seizing” to go along with radicals; the day, the opportunity, the situation. Whether or not any of those are truly ripe becomes an afterthought; tear everything down first and then sort out its mess in the aftermath.
Bolshevik or Menshevik? Modern history’s great irony is that the Bolshevik name is derived from the Russian word for majority (большинство). The truth is they never had one nor were ever close to achieving one. And while the term Menshevik meant minority (меньшевики́), what separated the two factions wasn’t the goal of imposing socialism, or which side had more supporters, it was over how to do it in a place that wasn’t anywhere close to being ready for the revolution.
Menshevik and Bolshevik, what united the two, besides their common socialist purpose, was in realizing that Karl Marx would’ve been apoplectic at their attempt. True communism is a transition not a competition; the next phase, not a rival state.
The great consistency of historical Communism is that it had sprung up in all the wrong places. Wrong by the determination of history, yes, but more so damned by Marxist dogma itself. What Comrade Karl and his partner Friedrich Engels foresaw was a worker revolt sweeping across the capitalist West first; definitely not kicking off in Russia nor any similarly economic backwater.
It couldn’t work that way. Marx envisioned that his enlightened world could only begin from a place of sufficient affluence. Industrialization was simultaneously a godsend and a plague upon humanity; a regrettable but necessary development to move society from feudal subsistence agriculture under which class struggle could never be anything more than perpetual.
The Industrial Revolution, therefore, was at once the transition phase opening the door to the possibility of human utopia – if done right. The capitalists would have their day, exploiting workers in service to capital and profit, raising the tide of living standards while they did, until one day the workers would rise up and take it all back.
Two things about that: there had to be “enough” wealth to take back in order to sustain the utopia on the other side of the revolution, but it also had to be the workers doing the taking back. In 1879, Marx and Engels would write, “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”
Neither of those conditions were met by Russia in 1917. On that, both Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Bolshevik leader better known as Lenin, and Julius Martov, afront the Mensheviks, actually agreed. The Russian situation hadn’t changed much despite almost constant reforms in economy and politics throughout the latter half of the 19th century. While places like the United States had quickly been transformed in the manner Marx wished, Russia had resisted.
Some said it was a natural condition of that place. Writing around 1905, near the dawn of the first (unsuccessful) socialist takeover in Russia, the Tsarist Minister of Finance Sergei Witte lamented:
“In spite of the vast successes achieved during the last twenty years [1880-1900] in our metallurgical and manufacturing industry, the natural resources of the country are still underdeveloped and the masses of the people remain in enforced idleness... To the present epoch has fallen the difficult task of making up for what has been neglected in an economic slumber lasting two centuries.”
But World War I had given Lenin, Martov, and Irakli Tsereteli, another influential Menshevik leader, a rare opportunity to seize. Weakness in St. Petersburg was further amplified by the incredible destruction and death industrial war had visited upon the poor, more fanatically disaffected Russian people.
They instead reasoned upon what today they call the Chinese model (“they” being the Chinese Communists). The revolutionaries would take power anyway and while waiting for worldwide revolution to overthrow the wealthy, capitalist West like Marx demanded, they’d attempt a hybrid.
The Bolsheviks called for a totalitarian small elite to govern with absolute authority over a “transitioning” economy; to shepherd the reluctant bourgeois until the workers were ready. The Mensheviks instead favored a less violent, less outright dictatorial means to achieve the same thing by appealing to workers unions, social democrats, and the existing infrastructure (where amenable to this end state) to more slowly evolve in the direction of true communism.
Lenin’s Bolshevism won out; not by inspiring the majority but by governing through another Reign of Terror (after winning a bloody civil war). He rationalized it purely by expedience; they had to take over long before Russia was ready, therefore to get it ready and bridge such a huge economic divide there was only left to them the most extreme means.
In a pre-industrialized society, Marx said the workers cannot see the benefits they’ll get from true communism; it would sound to them like science fiction, or some pie-in-the-sky scheme divorced from reality. No peasant farmer toiling day and night in the dirt just to scratch out a primitive living is going to seriously consider the socialist rhetoric about the day when work itself is almost unnecessary and every person living shares equally in society’s magisterial bounty.
You need that bounty first.
That’s the job of capitalism - as even the Marxist viewpoint agrees. Since Russia hadn’t truly undergone its industrial transformation, Lenin decided that he would force one upon the nation. Beginning in 1921, he formulated the National Economic Plan (NEP) that to many of his contemporary revolutionaries sounded and felt like a betrayal of everything they had fought over. A return to capitalism.
In his own words, Lenin took what he believed was the pragmatic approach. He’d later say the NEP was, “one step backward in order to take two steps forward.” Victor Lvovich Kibalchich, better known as Victor Serge, a Petrograd revolutionary contemporary of Lenin, he was more emotional about it:
“Cafes opened; factories went back into private hands. It was capitalism - in my eyes it was the very thing I had been fighting against…We felt ourselves sinking into the bog, paralysed, corrupted...Classes were reborn in front of our very eyes.”
As the child of anti-tsarist exiles living in Belgium among the burgeoning socialist movement, you’d have thought Serge would’ve known better. After all, in the preface to the German version of Kapital, Marx wrote, “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” In Chapter 15:
“Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth-the soil and the labourer.”
It’s only at that point socialism is meant to spur all workers to take everything back; thank you Mr. & Mrs. Capitalist for creating this massive pile of wealth, now hand over all your shit!
To the committed Marxist, the failings of every socialist state during the 20th century is easily explained – they never followed the plan. Like Soviet Russia, the revolutions fomented prematurely, dangerously before each society was ready to undergo the conversion. Utopia was doomed by, get this, not enough capitalism!
Suddenly, both Maoist and post-Maoist China makes a whole lot of sense – in the sense of how Communism with Chinese Characteristics has been implemented and changed over the decades. Like the Russians, Mao’s was a totalitarian revolution of a small elite taking the reins far too soon. Forcing his pre-industrialized economy into the socialist direction, he had set them up for failure (the Great Leap forward, meant to be something like Lenin’s NEP, was a genocidal step backward thought up by someone who was not just economically illiterate but probably to some degree insane).
But what to do after his death? The Cultural Revolution that followed the Great Leap Forward had meant China would be stuck two steps removed from the majority. That’s what all these socialists are expecting; once each’s economy reaches its terminal wealth stage, it triggers the frenzy of redistribution from capital owner to worker which the worker then realizes was in his own benefit all along.
Suddenly, the totalitarian elite “guiding” the transformation often using the most brutal of means (which are justified by these ends) is no longer so isolated. The workers instead begin to celebrate their efforts and join with them in solidarity of the socialist paradise. The totalitarian government itself, by this theory, should then dissolve leaving society with a flat structure without class or hierarchy of any kind.
The perfect commune.
In post-Mao China, that was, and remains, Jiang Zemin’s Three Represents (derived from Deng Xiaoping’s criticism of Mao) all balled into a single coherent (if questionable) dogma. China must embrace a “little” more capitalism (the first Represent) because, especially after Mao, the country isn’t anywhere close to Marx’s key inflection point. And the only thing Mao - like Lenin, Stalin, and the Soviets - really proved was that socialists on their own have no idea how to create a wealthy society (other than to steal technology from the capitalists).
While the Chinese allow limited capitalism to move them slowly closer to terminal wealth, they will maintain strictly to China’s cultural hegemony (the second Represent); a nod to both Mao’s lingering legacy as well as one key means of maintaining control while all this takes place.
Once partial capitalism improves China as far as it can, utopia will beckon; the authoritarian elite will come down from their positions of absolute power and join the throngs of grateful Chinese workers in singing kumbaya while rose petals fall from the skies.
Communism isn’t supposed to compete directly with capitalism; Marx wanted to use it and then replace it. They demanded the worldwide revolution must begin in the wealthier economies first. Once that happened, the globalizing socialist workers paradise would stand as an example for everyone to follow in all countries eventually – rather than pre-industrial societies who attempt it prematurely and inevitably fail, becoming an example instead of the opposite.
That’s ultimately what socialists today understand – and majority of the critiques of socialism don’t seem to. As I wrote a couple years ago (for the record, I’ve been warning of this trend toward socialism for a very long time now):
“This massive income inequality becomes paramount, on both sides. For the socialist, it is the animating feature of worker unrest and dissatisfaction. For the capitalist, it is an inherent flaw that inevitably, as Marx forecast, leads to the system’s destruction. Too much wealth concentrates at the top, can only concentrate at the top, torches and pitchforks not long after.
“That’s ultimately what Marxists have been waiting for – the worldwide revolution and total overthrow of the old order. Whenever you hear one denying the empirical proof of socialism’s destructive traits, economic as well as in its human toll, they will uniformly claim that it whatever it was wasn’t “true” socialism.”
Most people simply scoff and laugh at the notion; don’t these spoiled crybabies preaching communism know that history has shown it doesn’t work? True socialism has never been tried. Bah.
To the committed Marxist, it is their opponent who is ignorant of history. Unfortunately, they are right (in this regard) and they are winning the argument especially among today’s youth because of it.
It's easy to yell back: hey, don’t you know just how good you have it, that capitalism has created far more wealth than any other method or system in human history? To the socialist, this is nothing more than further confirmation: yes, we know it and that’s exactly what Marx was counting on and even preparing us for.
The trigger for the “true” socialist revolution, not China nor Russia, was always when capitalism had gone as far as it could; that when the capitalist would finally run out of workers to exploit, this would send the signal to the revolutionaries to begin the “true” revolution obviating therefore any need for Bolsheviks vs. Mensheviks, or Mao vs. Deng.
The transition would be similarly violent and brutal, but ultimately short-lived since the working class on the other side quickly realizes the promise of utopia, quickly forming the majority freed from want and privation (“from each according to his abilities, to each according to their need.”) The flat structure of the commune arises speedily where capitalism has been “allowed” to reach its final stage.
Rather than being spoiled crybabies who march and chant for “free stuff”, these socialists are observing all these prerequisites in our current day with no legitimate evidence to set them back to the drawing board. To them, the economic “boom” since 2009 – the boom that actually wasn’t - only confirms their suspicions, their diagnosis; one that is aided to an enormous degree by the stock market’s perpetual detachment from on-the-ground reality.
To these people, Jay Powell and all the “boom-ists” who blindly follow him are not just nuts, they are the ones who are committed to an ahistorical and falsified framework. How capitalism has clearly gone as far as it can, so man the barricades, now’s the time to set about erasing all prior capitalist (or imperialist, if you like) history and starting over at Year Zero! You don’t get to resist the transition to utopia, the one facet all socialist revolutions have had in common.
The current generation now in 2020 absolutely believes they’ve gotten the timing as well as the place right for once. This time, the revolution will finally take place right where Marx said it should’ve, in the wealthy, end-stage capitalism West. The Chinese can take notes.
Yes, this capitalist society is the best anyone’s ever had it, and now it’s gone far enough.
Now hand over all that shit!
Communism and socialism are the most abhorrent, deeply misanthropic ideals ever conceived by human evil. And we are losing to these people!
The reason is very simple. Very few who are against it seem to understand it; really understand it. If they did, they’d be far less flippant about what is being preached (indoctrination) in schools. As I wrote a few weeks ago, to the young person encountering all these Marxists they, not Jay Powell, sound realistic and downright prescient since 2008.
In other words, saying that communism has failed everywhere it has been tried only plays into the rhetoric of indoctrination. Pointing out that capitalism has made the world insanely wealthy, a standard of living today that for the vast majority would have made the last Tsars of Russia blush with envy, is in fact agreeing with the Marxist.
The whole thing hinges instead upon defining our future, not relitigating all the past. I for one don’t believe that there is such a thing as end-stage wealth or anything like terminal capitalism; for as cynical as I have become, I still have boundless faith in humanity over time. The human imagination will not be limited forever.
If your definition of what’s left of capitalism is Jay Powell’s “boom”, along with the current deep contraction, there’ll only be more Year Zero and mainstream politicians joining its ranks. Which one do you honestly think sounds more pie-in-the-sky today? Powell’s boom, or socialists promising economic equality that for the first time in history might reasonably sound like it is within reach?
Unlike the Russian peasant in 1917, the (former) American worker (or student stuck being a career student) in 2017 could more readily imagine Marx’s vision as realistic, if not more realistic than what they say in the financial and mainstream media. Three years later, what meaningfully changed? The unemployment rate fell even further, without generating any wage acceleration, than anyone thought possible.
Not only did that prove the rate was fake, it was yet another feather in the Marxist cap.
And now even more widespread misery, with jobless claims entering July still double the pre-2020 record.
Dispelling the myths of any socialist utopia is easily accomplished with actual rather than imaginary economic growth – on-the-ground proof that capitalism isn’t done and won’t be corralled for more than temporary periods. Opportunity is the antidote.
The consequences of a dozen years without economic growth around the world were always going to cost dearly and in more than in economic terms. Here we are, finally arriving at that future. Whose will it be?