Why socialism doesn't work (part 1)

First off, let's imagine Marxism as Marx imagined it. Everyone has become the "New Socialist Man", and is no longer interested in their own life, wants, needs, dreams, or aspirations, but cares only about the almighty State and what they can do for their government. There is no money. There is no market. There is just whatever amount of stuff happens to have either been stolen from the bourgeois (capital) and the land itself. The running-dog capitalist exploiters of the noble workers and virtuous peasants and their itching-and-scratching-dog lackeys have been heroically tortured into submission or justly executed along with their families. It is time to celebrate our glorious revolution and to proceed to enjoy our new workers' paradise.

There is a problem, however. We have abolished money! We have abolished the market! We have no way of determining if anything is more or less valuable than anything else! So how do we decide what to produce? The answer is that in the absence of a free market, we have no way of determining whether ten tons of iron ore (about two tons of iron), 200 pounds of rubber and plastic, 50 pounds of glass and the labor, equipment and facilities required to turn the forgoing into an automobile are worth more or less than the automobile we could produce from them. Moreover, we have no way of comparing the value of ten of those potential automobiles to the value of one railroad engine. Or of five tractors. Or a refrigerator (which requires some different materials, and some of the same materials). Or a computer program (which requires almost none of the same materials and a totally different type of labor). We have no idea what we can do to serve our fellow man, which we want oh-so-badly to do, because we have no idea what he values.

So, with heavy hearts, we have to return to the drawing board. But do not lose faith, comrades! Just because Marx's dream of a moneyless and marketless economy does not stand up to even casual scrutiny, that doesn't mean that he was wrong. He just wasn't right. And logic, right and wrong are concepts of the bourgeois mind anyway. Our superior proletarian minds will find a way to overcome these temporary setbacks on our glorious revolutionary road to freedom, democracy, and the mass murders of all those who disagree with us.


Ben Muscovite said...

I commend your recent post on Samizdata.net re SkyNews et cetera.

This post on socialism uses the famines of Russia/USSR as evidence that the USSR did not work or was weak. I respectfully disagree with your interpretation of famines and that the Soviet state was weak when the Cold War commenced. I certainly agree with you on its dysfunction.

The first famine, 1921-23 "under" the USSR in the Wikipedia citation was actually in the midst of the Russian Civil War, ending in 1922. Regardless of economic-type there is not enough food during conflict for other reasons.

The second famine, in the early 1930s was due to Stalin's vast efforts to destroy anything in Soviet society that threatened him. This could be categorized as purges, bacchanalian planning, and collectivization. See Robert C. Tucker's "Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above."

Stalin continued purging right up to his death in 1953, so the "mismanagement" in the economy can be plainly set at his feet for the famine of 1946-48.

There were no famines after 1953.

Also, Stalin's bogeyman was not the US. It was fascism. Strangely, he had a fascination with America and its arts and literature. He actually decided to emphasize gold mining in the gulags after reading an American novel about either the San Francisco or Klondike gold rush.

And as far as paper tigers go, I think the USSR hollowed out over time, but it was not a weak country for the first half of its sad history. After all, it passed unimaginable hardship to win the second world war.

I appreciate how the rest of your piece flows, though. We always need to fight somebody and the communists were awfully convienient. I would argue that they were not even really communists, but national liberation movements looking for a sponsor.

I would also argue that Al-Qaida "hates" us for the same reason we hated the Reds: they need an enemy to unify their bloc.

Best wishes.

cxx_guy said...

Note: If anyone is confused, this comment actually refers to the post "Why do they hate us?"

If we skip the first famine, attributing it to the war, we still have the second and all the subsequent famines. And though Stalin's purges certainly made that worse than it would have been under a more well-intentioned leader, one of the nice things about free countries is that they don't HAVE famines. This is not because the people in control of the economy are trying harder, or are nicer people.

It is because there are millions of independent actors, all of whom are jealously watching the markets, the weather, and trying to predict what will happen next. No planner, no human can be right all the time. But with many actors, each wielding power according to their track record of success (not evaluated by a political authority which can be corrupted but by the cold calculus of nature) there are very few circumstances which could result in a basic failure to feed people who are willing to work.

Although there were no famines after 1953, the basic problems of the Soviet Union continued. Store shelves were empty. Vegetables were either unavailable, or rotted in huge piles that nobody wanted.

Stalin's bogeyman was, indeed, not the US. It was after WWII that the US became the Soviet bogeyman.