Itís an idea that just wonít stay dead.
Many of us grew up watching Dracula movies—Nosferatu, the “Undead.” Fearful of the sunlight that could burn him into cinders, Dracula lived in a coffin filled with his native Transylvanian soil by day, only to come out at night to live off the life-giving blood of the living. But to continue his “unnatural” existence, this human-like vampire had to kill his victims by draining them of their own blood, or in the process of turning them into “creatures of the night,” like himself. Welcome to the nature and history of socialism.
Almost every Dracula movie ended with his nemesis, usually Dr. Van Helsing, the determined vampire hunter, finding Dracula in his coffin as the dawn was beginning to appear. He would drive a stake through the vampire’s heart or would open a nearby window so sunlight could fall upon the sleeping bloodsucker. Dracula’s centuries-old body usually would rapidly decay into dust. The “undead” had now died, and the world was freed from this “unholy” aberration.
But, invariably, in the next film, the life-destroying monster, in fact, had not been properly killed, or one of the poor humans he also had turned into a vampire took his place to plague the living.
Sometimes Dracula initially would be portrayed as an attractive gentleman, appealing to the ladies (such as in the 1979 Dracula starring a young Frank Langella). But soon his true, evil nature showed itself as he fell upon his human prey and made them into “ungodly” creatures. Welcome to the seeming unending resurrection of the socialist idea in renewed appealing forms.
The Original Appeal of Socialism—Utopia Now
How very appealing was the socialist idea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries before the First World War! All the burdens of life and everyday work, all the seemingly unjust inequalities of material wealth observable in society, and all the uncertainties of health care and old age would be lifted from the weary shoulders of the “common man” with the arrival of socialism.
Socialism would set everything right. Humanity would be freed from the shackles of capitalist “wage slavery,” everyone would be provided with all the necessities and amenities of material existence and desire, with all living in the equality of “social justice” and the accompanying end to oppression and tyranny being abolished around the world.
What a life-draining nightmare was set loose on mankind! Beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 through all the other communist “victories,” either through Soviet conquest or domestic revolutions and civil wars like in China or Cuba, the harshest and most terrible tyrannies fell upon all the luckless peoples given a socialist paradise to live within.
Socialist Reality of Crushed Freedom and Tyranny
Civil liberties were abolished with no spoken or written speech permitted other than the “official line” of the ruling Communist Party. Socialist central planning meant that the government determined what was produced, where, by whom, and in what quantities. Every person’s educational opportunities, living quarters, and employments were assigned and commanded by the State in the name of the collective “common good.” Dissent, disagreement, or even suspected lack of enthusiasm for the advancement of the bright, beautiful socialist future (as defined and dictated by those at the political helm of the “people’s state”) was met with arrest, imprisonment, banishment to slave labor camps, or death by torture, starvation, or simple execution.
Human life was stripped of privacy, with everything under surveillance by agents of the secret police or potentially reported by informers. Fear and suspicion were inseparably intertwined with any interpersonal relationship or association, whether in the government-assigned workplace or with neighbors in government-owned apartment complexes. Friendships, therefore, were precarious relationships that could end in betrayal and a knock on the door in the middle of the night from the secret police that resulted in an individual or an entire family disappearing without a trace.
It was not enough for the Socialist State to command and control your public words and deeds. Propaganda and indoctrination were used in an attempt to mold how people thought about the world and themselves. The contents of the individual’s mind were to be a product of the central plan as much as the types and quantities of the physical goods produced at “the people’s” factories. (See my articles, “Living the Life of the Lie, Part I” and “Tyrants of the Mind and the New Collectivism.”)
Human Cost and Material Poverty of Socialism-in-Practice
The human cost of the great socialist experiment to remake man and humanity for a new collectivist heaven on earth did not come cheap. Historians of the communist experience around the world have estimated that as many as 200 million people—innocent men, women, and children—may have been killed in the socialist meat grinders: 64 million in the Soviet Union and up to 80 million in China, with millions more in the other socialist societies around the global. (See my article, “The Human Cost of Socialism in Power.”)
Did these sacrifices for that better socialist future pay off? Did it deliver on its promises? In every socialist centrally-planned society, shortages, shoddy goods, and stagnant standards of living enveloped the lives of the vast majority of the citizens of these countries. Anyone who had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union (as I did in its last years) could not help but notice the zombie-like emptiness in the faces of many on the streets of Moscow, as they trudged on foot from one government retail store to another in desperate search for the basic essentials of everyday life. There would be long lines of people at one store waiting to purchase some poor quality consumer item or basic food products. At other government stores, there would be empty shelves with no customers. All of the stores were manned by listless, bored, and indifferent government employees just waiting for their shift to end. (See my articles, “Witness to the End of Soviet Power: Twenty-Five Years Ago” and “The 25th Anniversary of the End of the Soviet Union.”)
What else could be expected from an economic system that prevented any individual initiative or incentive to work, save, and invest, since private enterprise had been abolished and declared to be the basis of exploitation and injustice? (In the last five years of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had allowed small and limited private business enterprises, and these, however few and restricted, were the only pockets of economic vibrancy.)
The Austrian economists, especially, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek, had shown already in the 1920s and 1930s that the nationalization of private property and the end to market competition and a market-based price system did away with the ability for any rational economic decision-making. To reasonably determine what to produce, with what methods of production, and in what relative amounts, they explained, there needed to be some effective method of economic calculation. But with no market-based prices reflecting actual supply and demand conditions in changing circumstances, a centrally planned economy was, in a sense, flying blind. Its outcome is what Mises once entitled one of his short works on this topic—planned chaos. (See my article, “Why Socialism is Impossible.”)
Vampire-like, socialist political and economic systems drained the life force out of the societies in which they ruled. No ambition, no drive, no prospects for a better and happier life was the state to which socialism reduced humanity in those parts of the world.
The only opportunities for a better life came from being one of the Communist Party bloodsuckers of the ruling power elite. They had special stores, special medical clinics, special holiday resorts, special living accommodations, special opportunities to travel abroad to other socialist countries or even “the enemy” West from which forbidden goodies could be brought back home. The rest of the society was truly the exploited “masses” from whose meager and government-misdirected labor those limited privileges and prosperity came for the ruling Red Draculas of the communist state. (See my article, “How Communism Became the Disease It Tried to Cure.”)
End to Socialist Planning and Rebirth of Market Prosperity
The last decade of the 20th century saw the collapse of Marxian socialism in the Soviet Union and the “captive nations” in Eastern Europe that were conquered by Stalin at the end of the Second World War. The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 was followed in the 1980s with economic reforms in China that did not change the political stranglehold the Chinese Communist Party had on the country but introduced a variety of limited and controlled market-based institutional transformations that has brought radical improvements in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Many underdeveloped countries in what used to be called “the third world” turned away from the model of Soviet-style socialist central planning in the 1980s and 1990s and put the people there on paths of more market-oriented material and social betterment. Indeed, in some of these countries, abject poverty and frequent starvation have been nearly eradicated due to the introduction of freer markets and competitive entrepreneurial activity.
Dracula Rises! Socialism Once More from the Grave
But like Dracula rising once more from the grave, socialism has been making a comeback among academics, college and university students, and a growing number of intellectuals. It is reflected most recently in the Democratic Party primary win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who was a Bernie Sanders activist in 2016) over an established Democrat incumbent in a New York City congressional district. She hails herself as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
If you go to the website of the DSA, they outline their promise and hope for a new “progressive” socialist America to replace the current oppressive and exploitative American system of “neo-liberalism,” which is the political left’s catchall label for capitalist things they hate and wish to overturn.
They insist that theirs will be a truly “democratic” society. A small handful of wealthy capitalists should not dictate and determine the economic direction of the U.S. economy for their own private profit. No, the country’s future should be in the hands of all the people through democratic decision-making.
Workers should collectively manage factories and enterprises, and the society as a whole should assure and provide a large array of “free” things for everyone: health care, child care, education from kindergarten through college, and housing and transportation would all be “publicly provided to everyone on demand, free of charge.” Also, everyone would be guaranteed an annual universal basic income. Plus, the workweek would be reduced and vacation time increased to give everyone more leisure to create work opportunities for any of the unemployed who might still wish to be employed even in a world of all this “free” stuff provided by the government. (How and who is to pay for all these “free” items of material life remains an unanswered question, other than a general presumption that “the rich” will be appropriately taxed to foot the bill.)
“Democratic Socialism” Means the Tyranny of the Meddler
Since everything would be politicized with government involvement even more than currently in America to supply this promised “free” life of material post-scarcity existence, democratic decision-making would be extended to, well, everything. The DSA says the U.S. Senate should be abolished, and the entire electoral process replaced with a system of proportional representation in more directly democratically elected bodies. There would be “civilian boards for various government services, program councils (at the national, state, and local levels) for those who receive government services, and municipal and state-level citizens assemblies that would be open to all that would be tasked with making budget decisions.”
Anyone who has ever gone to town hall meetings knows that there is nothing “democratic” about the people who show up to speak out on agenda issues or in the voting done by the local council members. The numbers of attendees vary, but they are mostly invariably made of small groups of bee-in-their-bonnet busybodies. They are clearly people with too much time on their hands possessing political and ideological axes to grind, with the desire, nine times out of ten, to foster regulations, controls, restrictions, and taxes on others so they can achieve their local social engineering goals.
A handful of municipal meddlers speak out at these town hall council meetings, creating the impression through their “sincerity” and vehemence that they are voicing the “real” needs and interests of the community. Where are the vast majority of the citizens of that community? The actual majority of that town or city is going about the normal business of life: coming home from work, spending time with their families, doing chores around the house, or out shopping for food or other family necessities, or just having some downtime with friends before the next day of work begins.
Private Productive People vs. Political Busybodies
This ordinary and normal majority are the ones producing the goods and services in the private sector that represent the wealth and prosperity of society. They are busy managing their personal and family affairs to keep them (hopefully) in financial order. They are seeing that their house and immediate neighborhood are kept in order by mowing the yard, repainting a fence, or participating in some church or charity good works due to a personal sense of right, calling, or duty.
For most of them, politics never enters the equation; but, nonetheless, their actions actually keep “society” running and functioning smoothly on a day-to-day basis. They represent what William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) once called the “forgotten man,” those who peacefully and productively create all the things representing “the wealth of nations,” and which the socialist planners and regulators want to get their hands on through the power of the government.
To shift even more decision-making away from the private sphere to the political arena means to transfer control over people’s lives from themselves to the professional and amateur busybody meddlers who show up at those government meetings and influence the way the elected representatives vote.
And those elected representatives don’t mind a bit having the power to make such decisions since the spending on them is the financial trough from which they buy the support of those whose votes they need to stay in political office. Plus, it increases the duties and commands of the local bureaucracies who easily find ways to use the regulatory and redistributive powers placed in their hands to serve their own interests.
The more control is transferred out of the hands of the private citizenry and into the hands of these “democratic” socialists, the more the tyranny of the pressure-group cliques and community know-it-alls end up running everyone’s life.
Extend that from the local affairs of municipal administrations to the state and federal governments, and soon there is little that happens in the society that the political regulators and social planners would not be in charge of.
Similar to how Dracula’s friendly and attractive smile was transformed into bloodsucking fangs draining away the life of those initially mesmerized by him, so the Sirens’ call of “free” everything (that, in reality, someone will have to pay for) under the umbrella of “democratic” fairness and justice is soon metamorphosed into a tyranny of politicians, bureaucrats, and “democratic socialists” determined to use the political process to impose their minority petty prescriptions for a better world on all of us. The arena of individual autonomy decreases and the prison walls of collectivist control and command tighten and grow higher around everyone.
Have no doubt that this includes not only health care, retirement pensions, public housing, or guaranteed jobs and minimum incomes. The new “democratic socialist” agenda, like that of the “progressive” left in general, is to micromanage language, human relationships, social status, and group classifications of victimhood vs. privilege. (See my articles “Democratic Socialism Means the Loss of Liberty” and “‘Liberal Socialism’ Another False Utopia” and “Campus Collectivism and the Counter-Revolution Against Liberty.”)
It is nothing less than the same tyranny of all the earlier forms of socialism and central planning experienced over the last one hundred years in more explicitly brutal forms, just more rhetorically enveloped in the appeal of “participatory democracy” than the earlier communist cries for a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It remains the same life-draining Dracula returned once more from the dead.
***This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. It originally appeared on the Foundation for Economic Education’s website. The piece has been modified to correct one typographical error