The debate between the ideological left (socialism) and ideological right (capitalism) had been ongoing for over 200 years by 1848, when Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto. By the end of the 20th Century, the conflict had raged around the world and through time, causing real wars and killing hundreds of millions of people in times of war and peace. All of this bloodshed is between two economic political systems that claim to maximize human well being. So if you have ever wondered why people get so heated in arguments about socialism and capitalism, this is why.
Prior to 1848, the socialists believed in a consensual, egalitarian, and humanistic economic theory focused on small scale communities, where everyone shared productive responsibility and productive profits equally. While there were many attempts at founding permanent socialist communities, in the small and large scale, one of the best examples of the prototypical socialist community looked like New Harmony, Indiana, founded in 1825.
It’s all gone pear-shaped.
Founded by Robert Owen, a British industrialist and humanitarian socialist, the New Harmony commune initially grew rapidly, as Mr. Owen used his personal wealth to build the infrastructure of the town. Citizens contributed in building homes, planting crops, etc. All property, land and otherwise, and profits were owned in common. By 1827, the town was all but abandoned, after only 2 years.
Without the incentive of wealth accumulation, people began to consume more than they produced, living at the expense of others (the “free rider” problem). And this was the problem with so many socialist communities that have formed and failed in the past, remaining an intractable problem until Karl Marx changed everything.
In 1848, Karl Marx’s works marked a crucial shift in the ethical and philosophical landscape of socialism. He and Engels railed against the poisonous affliction of “profit motives” that are central to capitalism, but, unlike their predecessors, they took the socialist philosophy one step further. Their solution to the “free rider problem” was to do away with the consensual element of the philosophy and replace it with violence, cleverly relabeled as “revolution”.
“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
What kind of violence? In 1918, Tzar Nicholas II of Russia, after having already abdicated the throne, was executed with his entire family, including five children, and several servants who had voluntarily stayed with the family. They were shot and brutally bayoneted until dead. The two or three that managed to survive the initial round of shooting and bayoneting were shot in the head while they lay on the floor, bleeding.
Thus the butcherous Marxist Bolshevik Revolution began, killing hundreds of thousands in the years to come, until some semblance of stability for a few short years under Lenin until his death in 1924. Then Joseph Stalin came to power, and the real bloody purges began. From 1922 to 1952, Stalin continued the cycles of oppression and “revolutionary reformation” in Russia ostensibly turning the country into a purified socialist power. As many as 62 million people died in work camps, of starvation, in war, and by execution as enemies of the state.
The pattern was repeated in Mao Zedong’s China, where violence and gross incompetence caused the deaths of an estimated 45 million people in a span of 4 years, as Mao attempted to transform an agrarian peasant society into a socialist egalitarian industrial power. As many as 78 million people died as a direct result of Mao Zedong’s attempts to improve the general well-being of the Chinese people.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Even worse than the suffering and bloodshed caused by 20th Century socialist revolution, the real horror is that the transgressions of these socialist regimes would have been impossible had it not been for millions of complicit and devoted supporters of the ideologies and the governments that they spawned.
And when you consider how these individuals were able to rationalize barbarism, is it any wonder how easy western leftists dismiss complaints about western “democratic” socialism? Many of these leftists were born in the last 30 years and have never experienced a country resorting to walls and barbed wire around their country to keep their own citizens in.
This is the main obstacle to an honest dialogue about these deeply entrenched philosophies. Modern leftists see themselves as completely ideologically separate from the mid-20th Century leftists. In this way, they absolve themselves of the economic failures and barbarism of the socialism of that era.
Unfortunately, there is no absolution for the human tragedy caused by socialism, and its endless conflicts with anyone that didn’t submit to it. This legacy is established in the stone of history, and we on the right are justified in not letting those on the left disown that history.
At the end of the day, the difference between socialism and capitalism is whether or not people should be free to exchange goods and services consensually. If we, as society, truly value the concepts of freedom of association, freedom of expression, and personal liberty as a reality independent of governmental constructs, then the only legitimate economic choice is capitalism.
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