Socialism is Failure I: Not New, Not Progressive

As Aristotle once wrote, “He who thus considers things in their first growth and origins…will obtain the clearest view of them.”

In that spirit, this the first in a series of blog posts that will set out to make a simple but counter-intuitive point: Socialism is a primitive ideology that is supported not because it is successful, but because it is a failure. It is seen by elites as a way of hamstringing the ascendant West, limiting the powerful message of liberty, and making things “fair” by taking from the successful to give to the unsuccessful. Socialism in any guise is an unmitigated disaster, not corrective of capitalism, but deleterious to any society that adopts it in any form. It spreads like a cancer, eating away at liberal democracy, and leading inevitably to tumult and state domination.

Socialism has a long heritage, and it is not limited to Marxism. In contradistinction to what many people believe about socialism, that it is an ideology that arose from the excesses and purported contradictions of the modern capitalism system (rather than human nature itself), it is essentially a primitive ideology. Socialists are guided by a tribal instinct to condemn material disproportion as inherently “unfair,” and since all human beings are to be considered inherently equal, the leap in logic is that all those who have more must have attained it by dishonest means.

Within an ancient, hunter-gatherer setting, this makes some intuitive sense; such an economy is unavoidably cooperative, and social stability is thought to depend on an implicit contract among the members of the community that those who achieve success should share their spoils with the tribe, in order to even out the irregularities of nature and circumstance. If one is able to succeed in procuring food, or fire, or shelter, then one may fail tomorrow; so throwing in lot together is a way of mitigating odds and improving what has been referred to as ‘group fitness’ (so the modern line of reasoning goes).

But the development of agriculture brought with it different societal pressures, leading to very different societal structures. Though the techniques of living off the land gave man the ability to become self-sufficient, cooperation and organization was still needed so that irrigation would dispense water evenly and predictably among the fields being cultivated. Mutual protection was needed to prevent raids from nomadic hunter-gatherers. Such pressures gave rise to stratified societies, with warrior classes, civil administrators, adjudicators, law enforcement (to prevent theft), and due to the limitations of climate and available resources, merchants for regional and long distance trade, leading to the development of capital, banks, and modern economy.

Also intermixed within these castes was the priestly class, a relic of the shamanic order present in many tribes. Agriculture is a practice beset with uncertainty; without rationality and scientific understanding, it would be easy to fall prey to superstitions regarding the appeasement of natural gods. Priests led rituals and dealt with superstition; he was a powerful influence among the minds of the people, and a natural ally for the chief enforcer and protector of the social order. This alliance of the sword and the cloth led to the temptation for the upper strata to justify ever greater extractions of wealth, and the development of armies to both entrench their privileged places in society, and to prepare for raids on the border lands to claim or reclaim booty. Highly developed societies eventually built large enough standing armies to seek conquest abroad, leading to colonialism and imperialism in the ancient world.

Thus it was not capitalism that led to the origination of imperialism, but rather the power-lust and rapaciousness of ancient rulers like Sargon I of Akkad and Darius I of Persia, when built upon an economic base of agriculture and trade as such, and certain innovations in technology, for example, the chariot, the stirrup, and bronze weaponry. This is an important point, because it is often alleged that capitalism is an inherently imperialistic economic system, when rather it is a means to an indeterminate moral end. Capitalism can be used for both moral and immoral purposes, much like science. But true capitalism must revolve around individual decision-making and freedom of labor, and this is where the system’s conflict with the state and with certain elements in society come in.

Aristotle was one of the first trenchant critics of socialism, and he directed at Plato his reflections on the inability of communism to lead to a harmonious society. As the Second Book of Politics states:

Next let us consider what should be our arrangements about property: should the citizens of the perfect state have their possessions in common or not? […]

If they do not share equally enjoyments and toils, those who labor much and get little will necessarily complain of those who labor little and receive or consume much. But indeed there is always a difficulty in men living together and having all human relations in common, but especially in their having common property. The partnerships of fellow-travelers are an example to the point; for they generally fall out over everyday matters and quarrel about any trifle which turns up. So with servants: we are most able to take offense at those with whom we most we most frequently come into contact in daily life.

These are only some of the disadvantages which attend the community of property; the present arrangement, if improved as it might be by good customs and laws, would be far better, and would have the advantages of both systems. Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business.

Aristotle aptly foresaw the decline of productivity and lack of social harmony in communist states. His criticism fell on deaf ears throughout the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, as various sects and cults attempted to implement socialistic policies. Igor Shaferevich describes some of these sects and cults in The Socialist Phenomenon, including the Cathars, Free Spirits, Anabaptists, Taborites, and aptly-named Levellers. Among their maladaptive positions were an aversion or hostility to private property and disavowal of the material world.

One of the more damning texts against the wisdom of socialism comes from the diary of William Bradford, a settler of Plymouth Plantation, whose 1623 diary cannot be said to be the work of right-wing reactionaries attempting to confound the presumably glorious socialist movement through propaganda. Bradford arrives at much the same conclusion through experience as Aristotle arrived through his voluminous knowledge and rigorous philosophizing:

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; and that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort…Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

Thereupon we find that socialism has deep roots in human history, and indeed, a record of failure; the continual appearance and complete disappearance of communist societies shows that the model is far from one indicating ultimate success, as the pre-ordained conclusion of some Marxian historical dialectical process. Furthermore, we find the failure of socialism in early America with several experimental utopian communities.

The Rappites, for example, settled a communitarian society north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1804, and in short order were moved to relocated to Harmony, Indiana in 1814. In just a decade, the entire settlement in Harmony was sold to Scottish industrialist Robert Owen for $150,000, who founded his own non-religious utopian community there. The “Harmonites”resettled in Economy, Pennsylvania, where they would enjoy a brief period of unimpeded growth, due mainly to their attraction of outsiders, because their practice of celibacy meant a new generation was not being raised up to replace an older generation. Economy, ironically enough, would decline because of massive debts and insolvency, a sign of a community’s inability to live in the real world. As for the next world, the Harmonites prepared their souls without headmarkers upon their graves; that was an individualistic and unnecessary practice, they believed.

Robert Owen, above-named industrialist, refounded his purchased Harmony and renamed it New Harmony. Despite European tours on how the industrialist planned to manage his worker’s paradise, and his proclamation of a New Age, in seven months, the community was running red ink and had to be subsidized out of Owens’ own stash. In 1826, Owens issued a “Declaration of Mental Independence,” which condemned private property, marriage, and religion. This led to a schism between the members, and New Harmony broke apart, with several members resettling elsewhere, and much of what had been established up for sale.

Later in the 19th century, influential preacher John Noyes would leave New Haven, Vermont to form a community in Putney in 1841. After five years, the community decided to have all things in common, including wives. In 1847, the citizens of Putney expelled Noyes and his followers, who subsequently set up communities in Oneida, NY and branches in other states. The community eventually turned to eugenics with a system of parenting authorization Noyes termed as “stripiculture,” but the community’s plans to develop a perfect human race would come to naught. As their system of horticulture collapsed, they were compelled to turn to manufactures, and finally, their community became incorporated as a joint stock company!

As such, we see several communities going through the primitive arrangements of socialism before adopting the more advanced system of capitalism; a turning of Marxism on its head.

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