by Dr Oleg Reznik
After I read Three Evils of Capitalism that you re-posted on your blog, I felt the need to write about what seems to me a complementary and not fully expressed perspective.
The 3 evils of socialism — and reunification of opposites
Having grown up till age 18 in the former Soviet Union I have a personal experience to reflect upon (as well as many accounts of my family). Soviet socialism was not a particular or unusual form of socialism but the most advanced expression of the inherent tendencies of that political structure.
Exposure of the Soviet children to the ideas of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin started in preschool and by the time of high school graduation everyone was familiar with excerpts of those authors’ writings and their application to political and economic life, at least I can say that for the 1980s. The ideas of socialism and communism are inextricably related, and the former, at least in view of its major thinkers, was a prerequisite on the path toward the latter.
The countries typically referred to as communist in the US and western Europe (and likely in Australia) actually call themselves socialist, since full communism is thought to be impossible without the entire world striving toward communist ideas and ideals (no market, just open equal sharing of individuals and groups who evolve to the point of taking only what is needed).
Socialism, at least in the form it has existed since its elaboration by Marx and Engels, has been viewed as an opposing alternative to capitalism. Economically it is centered on social as opposed to private ownership of means of production. Politically, interests of the few are subjugated to the interests of the many. Socially, inequalities are minimized as far as possible with a goal of eliminating them.
It can sound like an ideal system for some, which is why so many in the world were willing to give their lives in the revolutions of Netherlands, France, Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Korea and other places.
Unlike capitalism, socialism tends to diminish the sense of individuality on a personal level (individual, but not collective, hubris is reduced). It is more economical and restrictive in terms of consumerism and consumption. Greed is reduced due to the fact that no one person will benefit very much.
Why then have so many former revolutionaries found themselves opposing and being persecuted by the very regimes they initially advanced? I think that Eric’s idea of “harmony or extinction” can be applied to socialism equally well, and we should be equally cautious with socialist ideas, which can, in my opinion, be of great value, only when moderated by capitalism and “green-ism,” and probably by other -isms.
The very same 3 evils that Eric describes as plagues of capitalism present themselves in socialism but in different ways.
While economic inter-individual inequality is reduced in socialism, power inequality is greatly increased. This is a process inherent to socialism. It takes power to re-distribute goods and equalize inherently unequal individuals. The power inequality is enormous, but this unchecked power of socialism is needed to annihilate, suppress and prevent “capitalist tendencies.”
Eric correctly tells us that capitalist externalities occur from indifference more than malice, and can result in war, poverty and ecocide. It is due to indifference while exploiting market economics. Socialist externalities are due to not so much indifference but hubris and ambition that accepts these externalities as a sacrifice in the struggle for the greater good. Genocide (Stalin killing around 20 million of his own people), artificially created famine in Ukraine in 1930s to force peasants into the collective farming cooperatives, war (Afghanistan war of 1980s, Iraq-Iran conflict and others), and ecocide of massive nuclear contamination are all externalities inherent to socialism. Contamination not just from the infamous Chernobyl, but multiple other nuclear plants internally known to spread nuclear waste, as the socialist system was in a race to overcome capitalism.
Again, this is not an unusual feature of the particular Russian or Chinese socialism but is an inherent part of socialism, that always aims at its ultimate goal of communism which cannot be reached without global conversion (from Marx and Lenin).
Alienation of capitalism is due to open or covert competition but socialism offers something arguably more destructive to the human soul. The system fosters dependence, and conditions its inhabitants to be dependent on it, lacking autonomy on mental, emotional as well as social and economic (and usually spiritual) levels. Individuals become alienated from the core of themselves, their own source of creativity and life, as they pursue the party lime. Those who refuse are either eliminated by the system, or self-medicate with substances into oblivion. Their lives are taken by the system as sacrificial offering, without their consent or even awareness.
Voluntary poverty communities are different from socialism or capitalism. They have been in existence for millennia and are historically well documented. They have usually (but not always) been directed by spiritual aims of various spiritual traditions throughout the world. They have been around long before the ideas of socialism and capitalism were conceived, and have been the source of both fair trading practices and social programs long before they had those names.
They usually attract membership by quiet personal example. They do not have, and cannot and should not have the ambition of converting and changing the world, at least not as a primary function, or else they risk getting caught in the struggle of the opposites and lose track of their original aim. They change themselves first and then share what they find allowing others to follow or not to follow their example.
The world must remain in some degree of disorder to allow free will and choice. We have to resist the idea of changing the world by the work of our own hands, least we fall prey to one of many versions of hubris.
Oleg is a board certified family physician, trained in New York. He subsequently worked in various practice settings, rural and urban, and on faculty at Oregon Health and Sciences University; authored a book and other publications; and currently is a physician for the employees and families of Jackson Laboratory — a genetic research facility in Maine. He is one of the contributors to Cancer: A personal challenge.