With the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution behind us, it is useful to consider the toll of actually existing socialism, or perhaps of the Stalinist perversion thereof.   Blood-Red Century, writes Ryan Fazio for City Journal.
Western culture and education today do an admirable job of teaching about the atrocities of fascism. Nazi Germany is reflexively understood as pure evil, and fascist regimes in Italy and Spain have also been damned. People understand the Holocaust to be history’s worst genocide. Broad awareness of fascism’s crimes serves as a bulwark against future threats to freedom.

The twentieth century yielded another evil ideology, however, one that marked an anniversary this fall, with the centennial of the Bolshevik coup in Russia: Communism reigned in Russia for eight decades and spread to dozens of other nations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. These regimes subjugated more than 1 billion people and murdered tens of millions in the name of social revolution and abolition of private property.

Radical leftism has largely avoided the stigma that we attach to fascism in the West.
In part, that might be because the liberal democracies attempted to provide their own versions of the allegedly free stuff the Iron Curtain countries were giving away.  Nils Gilman's The Cold War and the Welfare State in The American Interest elaborates.
During the Cold War, the choice facing ruling elites in Western countries was between perpetuating the interwar laissez faire system that had created working class misery, and which in turn threatened to create an opening for Communists, and building welfare states. Even for conservatives, that was an easy choice. Building North Atlantic welfare states in the postwar period was an explicitly counter-Communist political project shared by Christian and Social Democrats alike. Its explicit political goal was to marginalize the influences of the far Left.
That might be based on a misinterpretation of the causes of the 1929 depression and its persistence.  And policymakers in Europe and the United States had a victory dividend that they thought would make all things possible until it didn't.  And there are enough people drawing parallels to the Thirties, through last year's U.S. elections and on into the wrangling over health care and taxes and infrastructure that Ron Grossman's analysis, in Chicago's Tribune, has purchase.
Socialists downplayed talk of barricades in favor of "Evolutionary Socialism"— making a better world through legislative victories. Presumably that is what [Vermont's Bernie] Sanders means by calling himself a democratic socialist.

Meanwhile, conservatives started taking a page from their opponents' playbook, as successful politicians will. In the 1880s, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck established a comprehensive social-welfare program in Germany: unemployment and old-age insurance, industrial safety regulations, limits on the working day and employment of minors.

It was the world's first such, and its champion was anything but a bleeding-heart liberal. Known as the "Iron Chancellor," Bismarck was an archconservative. But with the socialists vote rising, he realized that he needed to play their hand before they did.

As a result of similar give-and-take, Europe's economy became neither quite capitalist nor purely socialist but something in-between. Capitalism with a human face, you might say.

That didn't happen here. Instead, the dominant idea was that unfettered capitalism grows the middle class that is democracy's bedrock. It was hard to argue with that proposition. The American middle class was a joy to behold — larger and enjoying a larger slice of the economic pie than any before it.

More recently that has changed. The middle class is declining in numbers; its incomes have been stagnant or receding. Foreclosures have taken the homes that were its share of the American dream. Students graduate so deep in debt it will take years for them to have the enhanced earnings they were promised when they went to college — if they can even find a decent job. Yet the rich are getting richer — the now famous 1 percent.

And socialism has gone from a dirty word to the virtual lapel button of a grandfatherly senator who packs them in like a rock star. His white hair flailing, he thunders against bankers and Wall Street like an Old Testament prophet. He warns his followers that electing him won't be enough. America needs a revolution.
But think not of that revolution in terms of guillotines, or cadre storming the Winter Palace.  Northeastern Illinois philosopher Tyler Zimmer suggests that revolution is emergent.
Marxists value free speech because they are committed to building a society where all can decide matters of public concern democratically, as genuine equals. Thus, the Marxist has a consistent way of explaining why speech that aims to dominate or marginalize others should be challenged rather than protected: it is contrary to the very values animating our commitment to free speech in the first place.

What’s more, since our own society falls radically short of the democratic ideals of freedom and equality, it would be absurd to say that acts of disruption or civil disobedience aimed at realizing those ideals are wrong.
He wrote those paragraphs shortly after Bernie Bros, or perhaps just disaffected Illinois state employees, disrupted a Donald Trump rally scheduled for the sports arena at University of Illinois - Chicago.  But in that "challenged rather than protected" and that endorsement of "acts of disruption" is precisely the totalitarianism of Critique of Pure ToleranceDon't say I didn't warn you.  "Actually, liberating tolerance, or progressive intolerance, makes suppression of reactionary speech the sole, and most important, criterion for shouting down a speaker. In time, though, the zealots begin to turn on each other."

Don't say that Jonathan Chait, no Tory, didn't warn you either.
[P]olitical advocacy on behalf of the oppressed enhances freedom, and political advocacy on behalf of the oppressor diminishes it.

It does not take much imagination to draw a link between this idea and the Gulag. The gap between Marxist political theory and the observed behavior of Marxist regimes is tissue-thin. Their theory of free speech gives license to any party identifying itself as the authentic representative of the oppressed to shut down all opposition.
The gulags await.  But ... back to Mr Fazio, it's the vanguardism and the conviction that the cadre are on the side of History or something that leads to the tyranny.
It was the height of hubris to believe that politics could engineer a social revolution, appropriate all of society’s wealth, centrally plan its economy, remake all other institutions, and even change human nature. But this hubris—pathological in practice—was endemic to Communism, in word and deed. By all means, let’s remember the Red Century, lest we condemn ourselves to repeat it.
The problem with the victory dividend cursed welfare states was in hoping that by allowing the commercial sector a modicum of freedom whilst not appropriating all of the wealth there would indeed be a way to make possible the free stuff, not to mention better free stuff than the junk the Warsaw Pact was putting on offer, when they had junk to put on offer.

Easier said than done, notes Mr Gilman.
As the Communist alternative retreated, however, the choice in favor of building domestic welfare states in the West became less clear for many on the Right. This retreat did not take place all at once, but rather unfolded progressively in the face of the grim realities of the Communist system. Although the global Left’s political disenchantment with the Soviet Union had begun earlier, widespread disillusionment with the economic appeals of socialism began in earnest only in the 1970s, as the Soviet system’s economic stagnation and the immiseration of Mao’s China became increasingly stark. Even if conservatives and liberals never bought into the false economic promises of Communism, the brute fact of the existence of a socialist alternative meant than some effort had to be made to match the siren song of egalitarianism. As the bloom came off the rose of the centralized planning models, it became safer for conservatives to push further to the Right.

In addition to the decay of the ideological appeal of socialism, further slowing the redistributional drive in the United States was the decline in real economic growth during the 1970s. By the end of that decade, the country was mired in what had come to be called “stagflation”—the combination of low growth and high inflation that appeared impossible under orthodox Keynesian theory. Rather than redistribution, figuring out a way to reignite economic growth was the political order of the day.
That's mostly by way of preamble, to motivate an argument that the tax reforms being rushed through Congress are incoherent, unless understood as a means to defund the U. S. welfare state and the cultural left that relies on government grants.  Perhaps, though, it is time to remind readers, because even the most diligent among you, dear readers, could benefit from a modicum of repetition, that there is no such thing as free stuff.  The Iron Curtain countries simply put more impedimenta in the way of providing stuff than the liberal democracies have.

No comments: