The French revolutionary phrase Liberté, égalité, fraternité is as well known as the bloody Jacobin terror that followed it. It soon became understood in the revolutionary period that among the three components of the tripartite motto, liberté was the most dispensable. While liberté and égalité were considered commensurate at first, due to the influence of Rousseau to name one source, égalité was redefined under the Jacobin regime to mean something akin to “equality of results,” as one can see in the writings of Babeuf, for example. The author Bardot made this point explicitly when he pointed out that the French temperament inclined more to equality than to liberty.
The French revolution would sweep away the Ancien Regime; but it would also clear the way for the tyrant Napoleon. Such is the record of extreme and rapid democratization since the days of Aristotle.
Though the 1848 revolutions would burst into flames across Europe, they were for the most part stamped out. Stale regimes like the Habsburgs and the Romanovs would survive for the imminent threat, in some part due to concessions and tributary reforms. The largely socialist uprisings had failed, for the time being.
The first instance of what Marx considered to be a seizure of power by ‘the workers’ was the Paris Commune, the French city’s provisional government that lasted a whole ten days in 1871. In some ways, it would become seen as an extension of the failed 1848 revolutions that Marx had participated in. Basically, the dysfunctional Parisian government operated much like the way Occupy Wall Street would run New York if it happened to take over the city government today. Though the Paris Commune’s temporary seizure of power is heralded in socialist paeans, the rift between Marxists and anarchists emerged quickly. The Paris Commune fell into disorder and became an anecdote in socialist lore.
Overseas in late nineteenth century America, the development of large trusts, formed quickly due to transportation innovations and mass marketing, lead to disquiet among the working class. Though people relied on the cheap and useful products produced by the trusts, and their lives were being much improved overall in terms of standard of living, they resented the disparity of wealth between themselves and the wealthy magnates. Since the United States was largely unexplored and competition was limited, working conditions were tough. The rule of law protecting persons and property was relatively weak, as immigrants were fairly unorganized and uninformed about how to defend themselves in court. Unions picked up the slack for people who could not always fight the cronyism of local politicians and judges allied with bug businesses. But a voluntary union of workers is a much different proposition than socialism or public unions extorting taxpayers by abusing the state. Socialism in some part was made less attractive due to the ability for workers to voluntarily associate in unions. Yet the kernel of labor collectivism remained a low level threat to capitalism that stuck around for years to come.
Such were the forces that gave rise to the Progressive Era, a time when dissatisfaction with aspects of the capitalist economy led to increased receptivity to socialist ideals. But the primitive ideology of socialism was infused with a new scientific luster. According to some readings of the political economy of Marx, the socialist state could be scientifically administered; but according to other readings, the socialist state would lead to more spontaneity, creativity, and freedom. It was unclear how such a paradoxical worker’s paradise would come about. If there was to be a spontaneous worldwide worker’s revolution, would they then demand to be scientifically managed by elites? Would everyone live and work as he or she desired, but with a raised level of community conscientiousness? How then would people’s wants and needs be met? A thorough research of Marxist literature will turn one away empty-handed. Marx did not bother to spend much time describing the perfect worker’s paradise; he was much more involved making sure the capitalist system was destroyed.
The author of “all that exists deserves to perish” made several other theoretically fatal errors. While he predicted the formation of worker solidarity, which would prevent another widespread war like the Napoleonic Wars, nonetheless, World War I came and went. Though he predicted that socialist revolutions would be spontaneous, they were indeed all led “from above” by intellectual elites. And when he theorized they would occur first in the most capitalistic and advanced industrial economies, like England, in accordance with his teleological view of history, he was completely wrong; it was industrially backwards Russia that saw the first “successful” socialist revolution (if one can even call it that; I prefer the term putsch to signify its narrow base of support).
This is not to mention the theoretical flaws in his economic critique itself. Marx’s adaptation of Ricardo’s Labor Theory of Value failed to accurately quantify the prices of scarce goods and goods that were abundant but difficult to extract without technical equipment. In addition, firms need land and capital for production, not just labor. These must be taken into account when prices are determined. Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, a crucial foundation of his economic critique, has thus been nearly completely discredited and replaced with the marginal utility theory of value. In addition, Marx’s usage of the Iron Law of Wages, which claimed that as the capitalist economy advances, wages ineluctably decline towards subsistence was proven false; Marx failed to adequately account for the increase in standard of living resulting from mass production, and to acknowledge labor market competition’s effect on buoying prices, particularly important as an economy develops through specialization.
Marxism thus being proven in the early twentieth century to be the failed theory that it is, two innovations were developed to salvage Marx’s powerful worldview and to implement it politically. The first was Marxist-Leninism, and its peasant agrarian variant Maoism; the second was Cultural Marxism, which attempts to gloss over socialist and Marxist economic failings by switching to a cultural-aesthetic mode of capitalist critique, without ever acknowledging how socialism would specifically function better than capitalism in practice.
The horrific results of socialist revolutions is well-covered terrain and need not be expanded upon much here. Suffice to say, an estimate of 100 million dead, from war, manmade famine, and state “demicide” cannot be far awry; especially if we include the French Revolution, 1848 revolutions, Russian Civil War, and Chinese Civil War, along with Stalinist measures under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the despicable acts of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NaZis), the massacres and petty atrocities that took place behind the Iron Curtain. the Chinese Great Leap Forward, not to mention the socialist terrorism of Latin and South America, the economic disaster caused by communists in African countries like Ethiopia, southeast Asian nightmares like Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge – a checkered past indeed, and one socialists are quick to deny. Their usual defense is to exaggerate the relative horror of the NaZi Germany regime compared to other socialist and communist experiences (about 1/10 killed under communism, in any event), and to broadbrush the NaZis actions as “right-wing” without acknowledging the socialist and undeniably collectivist elements and the verifiable anti-capitalist bent of the party. One example of a lie about the NaZis is that they were anti-union; in fact, the party forced all citizens to be a part of the German Labour Front.
The sum of socialism in its purest forms is misery and mass murder; while the track record of capitalism in its true form is space provided for the individual to improve his own life, and the technological and economic progress that has resulted therefrom. While capitalism is a means to the individual’s end, socialism is a means for the collective’s end; and since the collective’s end is defined by the political and cultural elites, that often requires sacrifice of the many for the benefit of the few.