Why have socialist ideas again developed such a strong appeal? Why, that is, when every single socialist experiment over the past 100 years has failed? British economist Kristian Niemietz provides an answer in his book Socialism. The Failed Idea That Never Dies.
He cites over two dozen socialist experiments, all of which, without exception, ended in failure.
This bears noting because whenever socialists are confronted with specific examples from history, they always counter that these examples prove nothing. They say that not one of the examples were representations of truly socialist models. But let’s consider the most recent failed experiment: Venezuela.
In 1970, Venezuela was the richest country in Latin America and one of the 20 richest countries in the world. Many people hoped that the charismatic socialist Hugo Chavez, who came to power in 1999, would solve the country’s problems. Chavez also inspired the utopian yearnings of leftists in Europe and North America with his aim of creating a “Socialism of the 21st Century.” After the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc in the late 1980s, coupled with China taking its first steps along the path from socialism to capitalism, the Left was left without a utopia of which it could dream. But his experiment also failed. Today, under Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro, the masses are left starving. Inflation is soaring, and one-in-10 people have fled the country.
The overdue adoration for Chavez isn’t new in terms of socialist leaders. Even mass murderers such as Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong were initially celebrated by leading intellectuals of their time. They turned a blind eye to the concentration camps in the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, many Western intellectuals were enthusiastic about Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution, despite the fact that 45 million lives were lost during his “Great Leap Forward” socialist experiment in the late 1950s. After Mao’s death, hundreds of millions of Chinese were freed from abject poverty as a result of Deng Xiaoping’s reform policies. China today testifies not to the success of modern socialism but to the extraordinary benefits born of capitalism. In 1980, 88% of the Chinese population was living in extreme poverty. Today, it’s less than 1%.
Niemietz shows that every socialist experiment has gone through three distinct phases. During the first phase, intellectuals around the world are enthusiastic and praise the system to the heavens. This honeymoon phase is always followed by a second phase of disillusionment: intellectuals still endorse the system and its “achievements,” but their tone becomes angrier and more defensive. They grudgingly admit that the system has shortcomings but try to blame these on capitalist saboteurs, foreign forces, or boycotts by U.S. imperialists. Finally, in the third phase, intellectuals seek to deny that the system was ever truly a form of socialism at all.
The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once opined: “But what experience and history teach is this — that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Perhaps this judgment is too severe. Nevertheless, socialists have succeeded in denouncing the system that has done more to fight hunger and poverty than any other economic system in history. But somehow, socialism, for all its endemic and repeating ills, retains positive associations around the world.
Rainer Zitelmann is a German historian and author of the book “The Power of Capitalism”
Author : Rainer Zitelmann
Source : Washington Examiner : Socialism: the bad idea that won’t die
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