By Neil Paterson
One of the appeals for socialism is that the system will hand over control of the “means of production” to the community, meaning that the people will have control of the market, the distribution of goods/services, and the authority that governs these things. They promise a unifying system under which all people are guided to prosperity under a common goal. Again, this idea is hardly progressive or innovative. Appealing to the “common folk” is the basis of populism, the form of which has been recycled many times by nearly every school of thought. The most articulated foundation for the socialist appeal is that of Karl Marx: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class…” 1 The promise here is that the workers will be organized into one body and decide for themselves how their labor and wealth is distributed, rather than the government or the class of the ultra-wealthy.
In Ludwig Von Mises’ analysis of this organization, he draws on this crucial point: “A socialist community can have only one ultimate organ of control, which combines all economic and other governmental functions… This office must have supreme authority to resolve all variations from the common purpose and unify the executive aim.” 2
This presents a severe issue: individuals have their own interests, motives, and free will. How then are you to account for this? The Socialist model has a rather brutal stance: dissent against the common goal is not to be tolerated. Such disagreements and misaligned interests would destroy the hope of achieving justice and equality. One of the common models that demonstrate the effect of centralizing all authority and economic planning is that of the USSR; this regime is often cited for its tactic in addressing those who disagreed with the State. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) solved this problem by imprisoning those with whom they deemed political dissidents (these were either those who were part of the previous government or merely those that disagreed with the regime) and sent them to prison labor camps or exile. This prison camp system was called the “Gulag” and acronym for “Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps.” The intent was to work people into submission, although many did not make it out alive. These brutal camps were made known to the rest of the world by a prominent Russian author.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian author who spent eight years in the Gulag and another three in forced exile (1945-1956), all for writing a letter in which he criticized the current dictator, Joseph Stalin. 1 Solzhenitsyn estimated that the number of people killed in the prison camps and exile throughout the Soviet Union was around 66 million, between 1919 and 1959. Even after the many refutes to his claims, the lower estimates still hover around at least 20 million. The victims of this Socialist/Communist State were not all criminals or corrupt government officials from the previous Tsarist regime; these were simply those that did not submit to the authority of the State and were therefore seen as a threat to the common goal (or the “executive aim” as Mises said).
The conclusion here is that to implement the socialist aims; there must be an authoritative, centralized state that subverts the interests of the free individual for the sake of what the State defines as the collective good. The political left assumes that the solutions to many issues can be solved by government intervention; this requires power to be given to those bodies. However, as 19th Century English historian and writer, Lord Acton, said: “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the citizens are willing to give more authority to their governments, they will inevitably forfeit their liberties in exchange for shallow promises. Instead of ushering in prosperity, equality, justice, or affluence of any kind, the result is utter despair and lasting damage. This was demonstrated by the many models of large-scale collectivism in the 20th century, no matter the geographical location or demographics. When a system favors the group (which is defined by those in power, whether it’s the community or the State proper), the individual is forced to either comply or risk punishment for their disagreement.
1. Marx, K. (1848). The Communist Manifesto. Massachusetts: Regnery Publishing, Inc.
2. Mises, L. V. (1922). Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. London: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Neil Paterson is a Contributing Writer for Young Americans Against Socialism. Neil works in Human Research Protection and has backgrounds in Psychology, Music, and Research Compliance.