A Warning Too Late?

I am reading (thanks to my son) Warning to the West, a collection of five speeches given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1975 and 1976.

Solzhenitsyn, in the second of the speeches, says:

Communism is as crude an attempt to explain society and the individual as if a surgeon were to perform his delicate operations with a meat ax. All that is subtle in human psychology and in the structure of society (which is even more complex), all of this is reduced to crude economic processes.

It is also reduced to “class”, in a simplistic way that would be laughable were it not taken as gospel by so many. Thus the opening sentence of Part I of the The Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.

Oh, really? Only if one omits war, flood, famine, invention, innovation, entrepreneurship, religion, morality, science, and myriad other facets of human life.

Or, as Solzhenitsyn puts it in the same speech:

Communism is so devoid of arguments that it has none to advance against its opponents in … Communist countries. It lacks arguments and hence there is the club, the prison, the concentration camp, and insane asylums with forced confinement.

Further:

Marxism has always opposed freedom…. In their correspondence Marx and Engels frequently stated that terror would be indispensable after achieving power, that “it will be necessary to repeat the year 1793 [the year of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution of 1789]. After achieving power we’ll be considered monsters, but we couldn’t care less.”

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who takes a bit of time to read the Manifesto, which at 11,000 words is just a long essay. The heart of it is in Part II:

[T]he first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling as to win the battle of democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.

The state is supposed to wither away when nirvana is attained. But Marx and Engels, having already shown themselves to be socially and economically ignorant, thereby reveal their ignorance of human nature. Power is a prize unto itself. And, as the subsequent history of Communism demonstrates amply, those who hold it will use force or coercion (e.g., the incumbent-protection racket known as campaign-finance “reform”) to perpetuate their grip on it.

Of all the frightening parts of the Manifesto, I find what comes next to be most frightening:

These measures [referred to above] will of course be different in different countries. Nevertheless in the most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools…. Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c.

Those measures that haven’t been fully enacted in the United States have either been partially enacted or are taken seriously by leading politicians and a goodly fraction of the populace.

The first sentence of item 10 may seem unexceptionable, but the next sentence (in the quotation) betrays it; that is, education is to be the means of inculcating Communism. Which is exactly the model of public education in America, which began as an anti-Catholic measure and has evolved into a machine of leftist indoctrination.

As for the entire list, it matters not whether the ideas come from Marx and Engels or “enlightened” American politicians. Their thrust is the destruction of liberty — and, with it, prosperity. The frightening thing is that the American politicians who advance the ideas and the public that swallows them cannot see (or don’t care about) the consequences. This, of course, can be counted as a “victory” for public education in America.

(See also “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare” and “An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare“,)

An Encounter with a Marxist

A post by David Henderson at EconLog reminds me of an exchange I had with a former neighbor, who is among a circle of acquaintances whom my wife and I occasionally join for dinner. In the post, Henderson quotes Robert Heilbroner:

Indeed, the creation of socialism as a new mode of production can properly be compared to the moral equivalent of war–war against the old order, in this case–and will need to amass and apply the power commensurate with the requirements of a massive war. This need not entail the exercise of command in an arbitrary or dictatorial fashion, but certainly it requires the curtailment of the central economic freedom of bourgeois society, namely the right of individuals to own, and therefore to withhold if they wish, the means of production, including their own labor. [Italics added]

The former neighbor, who acquired a Ph.D. in economics in the early 1960s, is a Marxist who views the world through the lens of class conflict. His world is a world in which the “bad guys” — rich capitalists and their cronies in government — victimize the rest of us, often with the aid of duped victims.

Because, in the former neighbor’s view, everything is rigged by the “bad guys,” he is unable to acknowledge  that competition and mutually beneficial voluntary exchange, fueled by the continuous emergence of innovations and entrepreneurs,  prevents the very kind of rigged game that he rightly abhors. It is not free markets but state action — taxation and regulation — that stands in the way of economic progress and widespread prosperity

The former neighbor see the solution to the non-problem through his Marxist lens. That solution is to use the power of the state to do the right thing — as long as he is judge of what is right, of course.

I understand that point of view, even though I abhor and disrespect it. But my tolerance for Marxist rhetoric drops to zero when I am told — as the former neighbor told me — that state action to redistribute income (through Social Security, for example) is a matter of “sharing” within “the community.”

I pointed out, rather heatedly, that when government — which enjoys a monopoly of force — effectively puts a gun to my head and says “share,” that isn’t sharing. Nor does government represent a “community,” for a community — to be worthy of the name — must be a voluntary association, not a group of citizens bound by the power of government to compel “sharing.”

The discussion ended there. Not because I instantly converted a long-standing Marxist to libertarianism, but because he saw the fury in my eyes and the set of my jaw.

The quotation from Heilbroner reminded me of the contretemps with my former neighbor because of their shared attitude: We know what’s good for you, and we’re willing to use the power of the state to make it so. Such individuals can claim, with a straight face, to be on the side of “the people” only because their arrogance allows them to equate force with benevolence.