Welcome to the third post of this series on socialism. In the next two posts, we will look at failed examples of socialism. The truth is socialism has been tried many times throughout the world over the last century. In every example, it failed miserably. There are so many examples of failed socialism that we can’t cover them all in this post. We need to split it into two posts. Even then it would be hard to list every example without writing a book. For the sake of time I will rely on a few videos to present some of the detailed information. So now I will present my case as to how Marxian Socialism has failed in the promise of elevating workers and raising poverty levels. Instead, it has brought about brutal dictatorships that have killed a massive amount of innocent people.
When you hear some progressives talk today they seem to make the claim that socialism has been a successful model in the past. According to them, it only failed under some governments but not all governments. They will point to certain governments in Europe today and claim that in some cases socialism works. They make the bogus claim that some examples of socialism in the past have failed, but there are examples that we can see today that seem to indicate that it can be successful. Then they drive this next point home. “Socialism can work, it just needs to be done by the right people.” These are their talking points, but are these claims true? Does socialism provide a better economy? Does it reduce poverty? In this post we are going to explore these questions. We will trace the history of socialism and see what the real story tells.
We are talking about Marxian Socialism. These concepts originate with Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels. Karl Mark wrote the Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels also collaborated on a work called Das Capital. The primary theories and definitions of socialism are spelled out in these writings. So let’s look at the history.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov is better known by the alias Lenin. He was born on April 22, 1870. He was a politician, political theorist, and a Russian communist revolutionary. He was the head of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1922 and then of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his leadership, Russia became the wider Soviet Union. This was a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Lenin was ideologically a Marxist. He built on that foundation and developed his own political theories which are known as Leninism.
Lenin was born to a wealthy middle-class family. He embraced revolutionary socialist politics following his brother’s execution in 1887. He moved to Saint Petersburg in 1893 and became a Marxist activist. In 1897, he was arrested for sedition and exiled to Shushenskoye for three years. After his exile, he moved to Western Europe, where he became a prominent theorist in the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party or RSDLP.
When Lenin finally took power his administration issued a series of decrees. The first was a Decree on Land. This decree declared that the landed estates of the aristocracy and the Orthodox Church should be nationalized and redistributed to peasants through local governments. This conflicted with Lenin’s desire for agricultural collectivization, but the decree provided governmental recognition of the widespread peasant land seizures that had already occurred. In November 1917, the government issued a decree on the press. After that point it controlled all media outlets. In November 1917, another decree was issued abolishing Russia’s legal system and calling on the use of “revolutionary conscience” to replace the abolished laws. The courts were replaced with “Revolutionary Tribunals” to address counter-revolutionary crimes, and People’s Courts to deal with civil and other criminal offenses. They were instructed to ignore pre-existing laws, and base all rulings on the Sovnarkom decrees and a “socialist sense of justice”.
In September 1917, Lenin published “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”. He argued that imperialism was a product of monopoly capitalism. He believed capitalists sought to increase their profits by extending into new territories where wages were lower and raw materials were cheaper. He believed that competition and conflict would increase and that war between the imperialist powers would continue until they were overthrown by a proletariat revolution with an end result of established socialism. In this way social justice would be achieved.
Lenin was a devout Marxist, and believed that his interpretation of Marxism was the sole authentic and orthodox one. Lenin’s interpretations were first termed “Leninism” by Martov in 1904. According to his Marxist view humanity would eventually reach pure communism. First it would become a stateless, classless, egalitarian society of workers who were free from exploitation from capitalists. They would control their own destiny and abide by the rule “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Lenin thought that the path he was setting Russia on would ultimately lead to the establishment of this communist society. Lenin’s Marxist perspectives led him to the view that society could not transform directly from its present state to communism. It must first enter a period of socialism. Because of this belief, his main objective was how to convert Russia into a socialist society with a socialist economy. In order to do this he believed that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” was necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie. He defined socialism as “an order of civilized co-operators in which the means of production are socially owned”, and believed that this economic system had to be expanded until it could create a society of abundance.
In order to achieve this, he sought to bring the Russian economy under state control. This was his central concern. Lenin said “all citizens” becoming “hired employees of the state”. Lenin’s interpretation of socialism was centralized, planned, and statist, with both production and distribution strictly controlled. His calls for “workers’ control” of the means of production did not refer to the direct control of enterprises by their workers, but it really meant the operation of all enterprises under the control of a “workers’ state”. This is pretty much the path that all Marxian Socialists take.
When the revolution first took place it lasted four years. After a bloody four-year struggle Lenin won, establishing the Soviet Union in 1922. It had an estimated cost of 15 million lives and billions of rubles. Poverty levels rose sharply and the land faced famine because of the war. Under Lenin, thousands of people were killed in something called Red Terror. With Vladimir Lenin’s approval, 50,000 white prisoners of war and civilians were executed via shooting or hanging after the defeat of General Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel. This occurred at the end of 1920 during the civil war in Russia. They had been promised amnesty if they would surrender. Russia was the first place where true socialism was established and it only brought death and poverty.
Joseph Stalin was born on December 18th 1878. He was the de facto leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who took part in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin had Stalin appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922. This post allowed Stalin to appoint many of his allies to high government positions. He managed to consolidate power following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924. He did this by expanding the functions of his role while at the same time eliminating any opposition. He began serving as the Premier of the Soviet Union after establishing the position in 1941.
Over the years many people have tried to calculate the number of people killed by Stalin. Here is a partial breakdown according to historians that used Soviet records. The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion during the war. There are official records of 799,455 executions between 1921-53. Historians estimate that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 in 1937 and 328,612 in 1938) were executed in a reign of terror. 1.7 million deaths in the Gulags and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – with a total of about 3 million officially recorded victims in these categories.
Other estimates of people killed including executions equal 1.5 million, Gulags equal 5 million, deportations equal 1.7 million out of 7.5 million, and POWs and German civilians equal 1 million. This is a total of about 9 million victims. If famine victims are included due to resettlement and land confiscation then there was a minimum of around 10 million deaths added to this number. It breaks down to 6 million from famine and 4 million more from other causes which are attributable to Stalin’s regime. Some historians suggesting a likely total of around 20 million people were killed under Stalin. After the cold war more records were open to America and numbers were revised. American political scientist RJ Rummel believes 60 million died under Stalin. I think the number is closer to 23 million.
Poverty levels remained high under Stalin’s rule. Many farms where confiscated and many people lost land through Russia’s redistribution efforts.
Nazism is also known as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party According to historians. It was a totalitarian movement led by Adolf Hitler as head of the Nazi Party in Germany. With its intense nationalism and dictatorial rule, Nazism shared many elements with Italian fascism. However, Nazism was far more extreme in its practice and in its ideas. It was an anti-intellectual movement emphasizing the will of the charismatic dictator as the sole source of inspiration of all people. Nazism also held a vision of annihilation of all enemies of the Aryan Volk as the one and only goal of Nazi policy.
Hitler would often declare that the Nazi party was socialist in speeches. However, the assumption that the country was socialist because the word “socialist” appeared in the party’s name and socialist words and ideas appeared in the writings and speeches of top Nazis is a bit naive. On the contrary, what the evidence shows is different altogether. The truth is the Nazi Party leaders paid mere lip service to socialist ideals on the way to achieving their one true goal which was raw totalitarian power. I believe that having the appearance of socialism simply rallied more people to their cause. As people joined the party, they more than likely believed they were part of a socialist revolution.
I don’t believe Hitler was ever a socialist. This is because he upheld private property, individual entrepreneurship, and economic competition, and he disapproved of trade unions and workers’ interference in the freedom of owners and managers to run their business. Germany’s economy did very well in the 1930’s. However, the state, not the market, would determine the shape of economic development. This is why some claim that socialism was part of the platform in the Nazi party. Capitalism was left in place, but in operation, it was turned into an adjunct of the state. Socialism is complete state control of industry. That was not German policy. If you doubt this then watch the movie Schindlers’ List. You will see how capitalism, although limited, worked within the state. However, similar to socialism policy, all Jewish businesses were seized.
Immediately after taking office Hitler instituted what he called “Racial Hygiene.” Between 1934 and 1937 over 400,000 people were deemed unfit by the Nazi regime. These people went through forced sterilization. Then Hitler sought to euthanize people. Hitler sought genocide of the Jewish people. This was driven by his beliefs in eugenics. During the course of the war millions of Jews would die. There were extermination camps set up. The Auschwitz camp preformed experiments in eugenics. The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele. He performed many cruel experiments on people in the camp. He was known as “The Angel of Death”. In total Hitler’s regime killed 11 million of his own people. Millions of Jews also died.
In 1916 Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world. At that time, Great Britain’s empire had grown into the dominant place among the world’s industrialized nations. At that same point in history, the United States and Argentina competed for the world’s second most powerful economy. Like the United States, Argentina had huge acres of farmlands filled with rivers and an accessible port system. Argentina’s level of industrialization was much higher than in many European countries. Telephones, railroads, and automobiles were common among the people and they could be found everywhere.
In 1916 Argentina elected a new president. Hipolito Irigoyen from a newly formed political party known as the Radicals. Under the slogan of “Fundamental Change” and with the appeal of the middle class he instituted socialist policies. Among some of Irigoyen’s changes, he instituted mandatory pension insurance, mandatory health insurance, and support for low-income housing in an effort to stimulate the economy which was already booming. The state assumed economic control of a major part of the country’s operations. They began assessing new payroll taxes to fund their efforts.
With a vast increase in funds for these entitlement programs, Argentina’s payouts became overly generous. Before long the entitlement programs surpassed the value of the taxpayer’s contributions. It quickly became underfunded. The economy started a downward spiral.
The economy fell after the election of Juan Peron. He was a fascist and had a corporatist upbringing. Peron and his charismatic wife Eva aimed their rhetoric at taxing the nation’s wealthy and rich, but this targeted group quickly expanded to include the middle class who later became an enemy that needed to be defeated. Propaganda targeting the rich also targeted the middle class.
Under Peron, the size of government bureaucracies exploded through the use of massive programs of social spending and by encouraging the growth of labor unions. These programs provided government jobs and attracted the peons from the haciendas which led to large reductions in beef and wheat production.
Peron had been driven from office, but the high taxes and economic mismanagement laid the foundation for poverty after he left. His populist rhetoric and contempt for real economics lived on. Argentina’s federal government continued to spend well beyond its means. By the 1970s inflation was so bad that taxi cab drivers were issued a printed chart each morning. The meter reading was adjusted using the daily chart in order to determine the fare. Now Argentina was importing wheat and beef when at one time these items were vital exports. Hyperinflation exploded in 1989 due to industrial protectionism, redistribution of income based on increased wages, and the growing state intervention with the economy. All socialism ends this way without exception.
The Argentinean government’s policy of printing incredible amounts of money to pay off its public debts which were caused by socialism crushed the economy. Hyperinflation hit 3,000 percent. Food riots were now commonplace. Stores were looted, and the country descended into chaos. By 1994, Argentina’s public pension had imploded. This was the equivalent of our social security program. The payroll tax on the middle class increased from 5 percent to 26 percent. Argentina also implemented a value-added tax also known as VAT tax. New taxes crushed the private sector and further damaged the economy. By 2002 the Government’s fiscal irresponsibility paved the way to an economic crisis that was equal to the Great Depression. In 1902 Argentina was one of the world’s richest countries. One hundred years later it is poverty-stricken and it is struggling to meet its debt obligations. This is the type of financial chaos that is caused by socialism.
Cuba is another place that has been devastated by socialism and communism. In the 1950s, various organizations, including some advocating an armed uprising, competed for public support in bringing about political change. In 1956, Fidel Castro and about 80 supporters landed from the yacht Granma in an effort to begin a rebellion against the Batista government. Batista’s government, although capitalist, was also brutal and corrupt. It was not until the summer of 1958 that Castro’s movement emerged as the leading revolutionary group.
By late 1958 the rebels had broken out of the Sierra Maestra and launched a general insurrection that became popular. After Castro’s fighters captured Santa Clara, Batista and his family fled to the Dominican Republic on January 1st, 1959. Later Batista went into exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He finally settled in Estoril, near Lisbon. Fidel Castro’s forces entered the capital on 8 January 1959. The liberal Manuel Urrutia Lleó became the provisional president.
From 1959 to 1966 Cuban insurgents fought a six-year rebellion in the Escambray Mountains against the Castro government. The U.S. State Department has estimated that 3,200 people were executed from 1959 to 1962. According to Amnesty International, official death sentences from 1959–87 numbered 237 of which all but 21 were actually carried out. Other estimates for the total number of political executions range from 4,000 to 33,000. The vast majority of those executed directly following the 1959 revolution were policemen, politicians, and informers of the Batista regime. Many of these people were accused of crimes such as torture and murder, and their public trials and executions had widespread popular support among the Cuban population. Many innocent people died as well. Some were falsely accused.
The state wasted no time seizing control of industry. Cuba’s imports grew after the revolution and at the same time, their exports fell. The newly formed Cuban government started to receive financial assistance from the Soviet Union. Once the cold war ended the Soviets cut off their assistance and Cuba experienced a high level of poverty. State run industry has always been a failure in post revolutionary Cuba. It was harder to detect when the Soviets were underwriting their losses.
Che Guevara was born in Argentina. He is thought of as a hero by the liberal elites, but this man has killed many people. He is responsible for assisting in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in the end he died a coward’s death. Watch the videos below to learn more about him.
There are about 40 countries around the world today that have embraced socialism. I have only covered a few of them in this post. In every case each country failed economically. The promises of a socialist workers paradise followed by economic freedom never came to pass. Socialism’s promise of being free from exploitation has never materialized. Karl Marx wrote about the benefits of socialism. What he did not know is the fact that none of these benefits really existed. Today our young people share that same dilemma.
Socialism has taken its toll. In many cases people were executed either for their belief in capitalism, for the support of the old government, or for their belief in Christianity. Many innocent people were killed who had never had an economic worldview. Over 100,000,000 people were executed in the name of socialism. In the next post, we will cover more places were socialism has failed, and point out misconceptions regarding socialism in Europe.