This is an article from the New York Times (May 4-5, 2019), that describes nicely the essence of the classic argument most people give against socialism - ie "Nice idea, but it doesn't work.": > Cousin Werner was an engineer in an East German vehicle factory. Like many others under Communist rule, regardless of their education and skills, he and his wife lived in one of the typically small apartments of a concrete-slab housing complex. These so-called Plattenbauten were praised as a symbol of the East’s allegedly egalitarian society under Erich Honecker. > During one of my family’s visits from our home in West Germany, Werner took us to the basement of his building and unlocked the door to a little storage room. In it was a collection of fine tools that amazed even us westerners: hammers and wrenches of all sorts, drilling machines and a turning lathe made for a professional workshop. > When we asked him how he had gotten hold of all of this equipment in an economy that was notorious for shortages, Werner shrugged. “Well, Honecker told us to get out of our factories what we can, didn’t he?” he said. > Jochen Bittner. New York Times - nytimes.com
I've rarely thought through this type of argument, so as it is so common place I think it is time to take it seriously. For my part the explanations for the failure of communism were so obvious, and having seen it in some detail in Eastern Europe, and Cuba, and having grown up with constant stories from my father of trips to strange and distant foreign lands - it barely needed an explanation. It was simply "of course that doesn't work!".
On the other hand, it was so easy and obvious to explain why it didn't work without any reference to socialism, that I also never took it as a serious critique of socialist values. The teenager in me dismissed these arguments on the following grounds: 1. The philosophy of socialism and communism was written by a bunch of utopian dick-heads (literally - they were all male) who had no sense of biology, humanity, or appreciation of evolution (natural selection). 1. Revolutions and war birth bullies, tyrants and military style organisational hierarchies. 1. Propaganda is a crap vehicle for any new or sophisticated philosophy or politics. Propaganda appeals to the existing, the old and the primal. 1. Reading detailed historical accounts of the birth of socialism / communism in Russia and China made perfectly clear the military nature of the struggle. 1. War and mass mobilisation require propaganda.
That is simply by understanding the nature of the authors (as human beings) and their lack of emotional and intellectual diversity, together with the historical situation of the revolutions and their mechanism to arrive at power (and the subsequent military resistance) - we could easily explain all the disastrous effects of communism.
Also i never got the connection people drew between communism and central planning - ??? I mean the communists reprobate cousin (if not blood brother) were the anarchists - it seemed pretty clear to me that the social impulse could be taken at pretty any level of collective organisation, from the family, to the village and all the way up to the global society on this planet.
No - it was obvious that central planning was a consequence of pragmatics - if you have a few months or years to organise your shit, and no computers, and you are under military attack - well you better get damned good at central planning fast.
# That was then
But that was the teenage me. Sometimes, perhaps even often, the obvious is not so obvious when you look at it. So let's look at this harder.
First let's re-frame the question. The frame is going to get at the heart of what concerns me in this New York Times article - it's old dull conservative thought. Now don't get me wrong, I love dull - that gives the article grounding, and I have become fond of conservative or cautious thought - the cynicism and risk awareness can be a breath of fresh air - but the combination of the two combined with the arrogance that excludes innovation makes me literally sick.
Our framing therefore aims to get to the heart of the assertion: > Market forces, based around the primacy of the individual and competition is the only game in town - everything else (socialism) is a proven failure.
# The alternative
The alternative idea, that has inspired me since the 1970's is that evolutionary style change is equally possible in deliberative games that have nothing to do with money, and appear strikingly similar to many of the ideals of socialism.
# Propoganda thugs
First of let's dispense with the rebel rousers (propaganda thugs) - those that (over) use slogans to tap into primal instincts of the dispossessed.
We can understand this phenomenon not as evidence for the validity of the (socialist) theory being espoused, but rather the opposite. It appears a historical lesson, that the poor, and especially the rural poor are for every human reason you can think of, programmed to reject thoughts of new social structure, and philosophical time-wasters. Populism for the poor is a set of different tropes. It is not socialism (that is any form of non-standard organisational principle).
Rather there appears to be a deep seated understanding within groups that look to pull down any potential leader. This force then flips to the worshipful following of the warrior or spiritual King (or Queen). This transition appears to happen at certain scales, and at certain times of stress - often military or chaotic threat.
This set of dynamics, and the response occurs regardless of the political theory being quoted by the propagandist.
# Deep narrative
Still is there a causal link between the form of socialist thought - and its tendency to authoritarian violence against the individual? Let's think harder about this. Let's think about immunity.