Words Mean Things

Friday, August 01, 2008

This morning, I ran across sad, but a little-known episode in history, but before I bring it up, consider the following definition.

socialism -- a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole. [bold added]
You can get this, or something like it, from any dictionary, any time. And the justification for this -- the "common good" -- hardly needs stating.

Under socialism, you own nothing and any real or imagined benefit you may see as an individual is irrelevant unless it is in line with whatever whoever is in charge of the collective deems to be the common good. To imagine that it is what you think or hope it is is the height of naivete.

Considering these things, it is not too surprising that one Russian author, who would eventually escape tyranny to make her fortune in America, would make the following connection at the age of twelve, and remain puzzled as an adult that so many in America failed to make it:
When, at the age of twelve, at the time of the Russian revolution, I first heard the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of the State, I perceived that this was the essential issue, that this principle was evil, and that it could lead to nothing but evil, regardless of any methods, details, decrees, policies, promises and pious platitudes. This was the reason for my opposition to Communism then -- and it is my reason now. I am still a little astonished, at times, that too many adult Americans do not understand the nature of the fight against Communism as clearly as I understood it at the age of twelve: they continue to believe that only Communist methods are evil, while Communist ideals are noble. All the victories of Communism since the year 1917 are due to that particular belief among the men who are still free. -- Ayn Rand in "Foreward", We the Living, vii.
And yet many did not make this connection then. Nor do many now recognize or admit to themselves that both American political parties are promising to achieve similar goals now, using similar justifications.

Particularly sad is the fate of a group of Americans who emigrated to the Soviet Union during the Great Depression only to learn when it was too late exactly what state ownership of the means of production entails for one's daily life:
... [T]housands of Americans [were] lured by sham Soviet propaganda and pro-Soviet falsehoods spread by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and the corrupt New York Times Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty [and] migrated to the USSR in search of jobs and a role in the "building of socialism." ...

They came to Russia full of enthusiasm, bringing with them baseball and jazz, and eager to acclimatize. Russians found it difficult to believe the Americans' tales of woe when they saw their clothes, luxurious by Russian standards. And the migrants were themselves quite unprepared for the poverty and lawlessness which characterized life under Stalin, and in many if not most cases decided to leave. They soon learned, however, that when they surrendered their American passports upon stepping on Soviet soil (passports which were then used by Soviet agents in America), they had become, automatically, Soviet citizens. Protests and appeals to the American authorities qualified the emigres in Moscow's eyes as troublemakers and led to their arrests, followed by confinement in concentration camps.

Stalin, whose paranoia grew to the point where he confessed he could not even trust himself, had no use for these foreigners. This was for two reasons. One was that he feared they would spread discontent among Soviet citizens. The other was that he feared they would demand repatriation and, on returning home, enlighten Americans about the dreadful conditions of life in the USSR. So he ordered them to be treated as Soviet citizens, accused of "espionage" and isolated in the Gulag from which few were expected to emerge alive. [some format edits, bold added]
The lawlessness follows directly from the purpose of the government in a socialist state versus that in America: the subordination of the individual to the collective versus the protection of the individual. In addition to active repression, if an individual is harmed and it doesn't affect the state, why would the state expend its resources to protect individuals? (The rise of anarcho-tyranny in the West shows elements of both aspects of this difference.)

It is very easy today to lay the blame for Obamamania (as well as the very fact that McCain is his "opponent") on decades of Americans having had their minds crippled by anti-conceptual "Progressive" education while at the same time being subjected to collectivist propaganda. No wonder so many people don't see these differently-complected ideological twins for what they are!

Poor education does account for part of the problem. But what of the 1930s? If some people were less-educated in terms of years spent in school, they were also less exposed to collectivist propaganda and less mentally crippled. If some were better-educated, they were probably better able, on the whole, to think in abstract terms. Why did so many fall so easily for propaganda in the service of ideas that are plainly, upon examination, dangerous to put into practice?

Part of the difficulty is philosophical. The problem of tying abstractions to concretes was unsolved and the idea that the moral and the practical are at odds is an ancient one. These problems doubtless made many unable to see the merits of individual rights vs. socilaism (or mount a good intellectual defense of freedom) and less easily able to consider the practical merits of such sweeping applications of altruism as socialism. (The author I cite above has, in my judgement, admirably solved these philosophical difficulties. If freedom is to be preserved, more intellectuals need to become aware of and understand her ideas.)

And yet, we have that definition of socialism, which at minimum would tell anyone that he will, at best, be at the mercy of some state official or set of neighbors who happen to like him, when he needs something. And we all have a memory bank full of examples of less-than-benevolent people to tell us that leaving our lives to chance like this is a bad idea.

In some cases, an individual accepts collectivism due to his own moral defect, which I have sometimes called the "dictator fantasy". In this fantasy, he focuses on what he thinks he'll get out of the "deal", while forgetting that since his chosen method of dealing with others has become the sword, he will eventually die by the sword.

Whatever the causes of the incredible ability of so many Americans to fail to appreciate the country they live in, two things make it imperative to fight against those who would "build socialism" (under whatever name) on our own soil. First, if they succeed, they will not be the only ones to suffer the consequences they deserve. Second, it could easily become too late. There will be nowhere to flee.

To make a distinction between life within the gulag and life without in a dictatorship -- excuse my redundancy here -- is to split hairs.

-- CAV


Richard said...

Clearly a case of: "be careful what you wish for you just might get it." And in this case they got it. It may be sad, but I have little sympathy.

American Schooling was quite a lot better back then. I am in my late fifties, and knew Communism was wrong when I was 15 (hippies were just starting to appear). The emigrants were adults then, and were educated even earlier!

By the time I was in my twenties I had learned of the emigrants, and thought they were crazy. Other University students and professors, would argue with me, saying Russia was NOT communist because it was run by a dictatorship. I had trouble with that for years until I read Rand.

Using what I had read (or did she bluntly say it, I cannot recall) I came to understand that Communism cannot work because ANY individual who has a different personal goal that does not meet with the Collective, is a threat to the Collective. No matter how peaceful its intentions were, as described by the communist idealists, communism would eventually HAVE to curb certain errant individuals. Then such control would have to become a standard rule. Hence, communism as a Political system is necessarily violent, no matter how dedicated to peace those in charge may be.

Some communist idealists pointed to the Israeli kibbutzim, which were quite popular in the early seventies. However, they had a vent for unique individuals. They just left their kibbutz for mainstream Israeli society. Of course even the peaceful kibbutzim failed, because the more their collectivism was understood, the fewer Israelis were interested. Eventually even the die-hards gave up grudgingly, grasping the reason theirs was a folly.

Gus Van Horn said...

I recall a few years ago having run across a story to the effect that many (if not most) kibbutzim eventually shifted over to a capitalist model.

And don't even get me started on all these silly, left-leaning "anti-capitalist" businessmen out there. Talk about willful evasion....