Socialism, what is It?
The meaning of Socialism is difficult to wrap your mind around. There are several ideologies at the table that all point fingers at each other and say, “we are the only real Socialists.” All those others are just not the real version. So, what is real Socialism?
The definitions are constantly evolving. It comes to self-definition and each denies being related to the others. But they all reject Capitalism. The French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon coined the word “Socialism” in the 1800s. His followers took his ideas to develop the Socialist playbook. He did not shun private property, but did not see it as a necessity, and did see private property as a negative, especially when it was passed on as in inheritance. He felt that economic policy needed to be organized through central totalitarian control, influenced by technocratic scientists and the needs of industrialization.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) added the class struggle to the mix. He saw class as an evil that needed to be eradicated. Marx and Friedrich Engels developed their own “Scientific Socialism” in contradistinction to the earlier socialists who Marx called the “Utopian Socialists.” Marx saw Socialism as an intermediary economy between decadent Capitalism and fully evolved Communism with the state owning the means of production and distribution. He saw it as the final stage when the state would wither, and classes would disappear. The workers would administer the economy. As it turns out workers could not administer the economy because they did not have the knowledge nor the ability to do so. The state instead of withering just got stronger. It required another layer of bureaucrats run to the country. This evolved into what is called Marxist-Leninist Socialism.
There has been much written that National Socialists (Nazis) are not Socialists. Among the various arguments are that the Nazis imprisoned and killed Marxist Socialists. Nazi’s were far-right wing Fascists and could not also be Socialists. But in fact they called themselves National Socialists not because they liked the name. Hitler, himself, said in Das Zweite Buch, “I am a Socialist!” Although they did not own the means of production which remained nominally in the hands of the industrialists of Germany, the state certainly controlled industry completely. So it didn’t matter whose name was on the ownership papers. The Nazis also created the huge public works projects such as the Autoban, and they also took over health care. They put Germany under full employment, and funded major building projects with public funds. The intellectual foundations of the National Socialistic economy were based on writings by philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), and Oswald Spengler ( 1880-1936), who by happenstance lived and wrote his major work, The Decline of the West, in my hometown of Hinterstoder, Austria, giving me a closer understanding of his thoughts. He coined a new term that connected the state to the individual – the Volksgemeinshaft – the common ownership by the people and the state, sounds like a euphemism for Socialism to me. The control of industry, the collectivization of healthcare, education, and transportation, the anti-capitalist stance, autocratic hierarchical management, and the states control of the economy makes Nazis at least a close relative of Socialism justifying their chosen name, National Socialists. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.
The latest version is Democratic Socialism promoted by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, yet another version of the ownership of the means of production. Just like the Nazis they too have a different interpretation of who should control the means of production – the workers and consumers should share ownership and control, they say. Workers in control didn’t work out so well for Marx and Engels. Adding consumers to the mix is really going to help! Or should I rewrite that sentence: Adding consumers to the mix is going to help – really?
The definitions get more complicated but the unifying philosophy of all the Socialists is that they promote Top-Down management of society’s answers to the problems, unlike what the Free Market offers – Bottom-Up solutions. All forms of Socialism are Top-Down management, and all Capitalism is Bottom-Up management. Therein lies the flaw. The Capitalistic dairy farmer knows how many cows he needs, and if the market changes he adapts quickly. The neighboring town’s dairy has gone out of business and now they need to buy milk from our Capitalist dairy farmer. He gets five more cows and milking machines almost overnight, hires two new milk maids and is all set for the new circumstances. The same situation in the Socialist dairy farm requires the farmer to appeal to the central committee to first of all allow him to exceed his quota, then to give him more cows and milk maids. The committee sends an inspector with a clipboard and a calculator (technocratic science) who makes recommendations to the central committee on the number of cows to give him. Top-Down requires multiple steps and therefore is slow and months pass. He finally gets one new cow and one milkmaid, but the farmer does not care because he never did want to do all the additional work of procuring feed and feeding five more cows anyway. The Capitalist dairy farmer does not produce milk because in his altruism realizes that milk is a necessary food for people, but because the more milk he sells the more profitable it is, and the sooner the better for him. While the Socialist dairy farmer could not care less. The milk is sold but the profits go to the state which then pays the dairy farmer according to his needs. There is very little in it for the Socialist dairy farmer if he gets five new cows. The principle is the same regardless if it is a dairy farm, an auto repair shop, or a medical clinic. People in the next town will just have to do with less milk, and get on a list to get their car fixed. And like in Canada with Socialized Medicine, people get on a list and get a cane , usually having to wait at least a year before they get a total hip or knee replacement, or they come across the border and get it in a few days if they can afford to do so. A Canadian friend of mine wanted a CT scan for his severe headaches. The average wait time in Manitoba for CT scans is 31 weeks. He explained to the keeper of the list that he was afraid that he had a brain tumor, and in 31 weeks he might be dead. The answer he got, “Well then you will not need the brain scan, and we will just cross you off the list.”
Central planning failed Marxist Communism and also National Socialism. Will it work in Democratic Socialism? Einstein’s famous quote seems to apply here: “ The definition of insanity is when you ask the same question but expect a different answer.”