SOCIALISM is trendy, it seems. Amongst those too young to have known the USSR, socialism is hip. Of course whenever the previous failed states are brought up, the defence from the tragically deluded is that they were not really socialist. ‘Real’ socialism has actually never been tried, they will claim. If Venezuela is mentioned, then the excuse is that the US is to blame, something that is easily debunked by those in possession of the facts.
Whenever socialists take over a country there are three distinct phases or perhaps ordeals through which the country, or rather its people, have to go through. Here they are in chronological order:
Plunder The new socialist state will start to appropriate property and capital to redistribute amongst the wider populace, with perhaps a larger ‘cut’ for the elite. There is a short period of well-being as this redistributed wealth is consumed. However, this redistribution will mean that the wealth is not being used to make the economy function as it used to. The new elite will obviously have their own economic plans, but will not have the wealth to implement them as this has been redistributed rather than reinvested. Unless this new elite includes some kind of economic genius, which is unlikely, insufficient wealth will be created to replace the wealth that has been plundered, so the redistribution will tail off. Workers will start to be paid in money that cannot buy anything, and price controls mean that there will be nothing to buy anyway as goods and services disappear into the black market.
Exodus People know when they are being paid properly for the work they perform, and people with exceptional, valued or portable skills will expect to be better-paid. Also there will be people who add life and colour to a society through their power to, challenge, question, entertain, or look at life from unusual angles. A socialist regime is interested only in ideological conformity, and equality means that a doctor may be paid as much as a bus driver. People in such a situation will eventually work the minimum necessary to earn their wage and no more, especially when the plunder phase means there is nothing to buy and shortages abound.
While such a regime of insufficient supply and reward will create the black market mentioned above, people with portable skills have an alternative to leveraging the true value of their skills in the informal economy: they can leave. It is no surprise that socialist regimes in Europe always eventually closed their borders to prevent the outflow of talent. A period of exodus is actually initially beneficial to socialist regime as the people who are the first to leave may include most potential trouble-causers or political undesirables. The logic of equality initially persuades the regime that these émigrés are replaceable as people are always interchangeable. They never are.
The House of Fabergé was based in Russia until it was nationalised by the Bolsheviks. The family eventually escaped and recreated their lucrative business in Paris. The writer Ayn Rand arranged to leave Russia in the mid-1920s and rose to prominence in the USA. The most famous example of Russia’s loss and the West’s gain may be the departure of helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky. The world’s first production helicopter, the Sikorsky R4 was built in the USA in 1942, and not in Sikorsky’s native Russia, which had to wait until 1950 to see the Mil M-1 take to the air.
Socialist Venezuela cannot close its borders with the outside world and thus has been experiencing an exodus of the great, good, and desperate for almost a decade, the outflow of talent damaging the oil industry, as well as gifting Chile with hundreds of qualified doctors.
Purge While a socialist state is founded on equality, it is inevitable after everyone has been forcibly reduced to the same social and economic baseline that some will rise higher than others due to happenstance or ability. A society set up to be a workers’ state may see a new bourgeoisie emerge to replace that which has been expunged, simply because units of production require management and this cannot always be left to collective decision-making on the shop floor. The problem for the regime is that people who rise above their peers due to necessity, talent, guile, or all three, pose a perceived or actual threat to the rulers by simply being better potential rulers than those actually in charge. From time to time, a social reset is necessary to put people back into their state-mandated place, or just to exterminate them. As with permitting an initial exodus, this is based on the logic that in a society based on equality, people are essentially interchangeable. As with the exodus phase, this is false logic.
The failure of the Soviet manned lunar programme was due to a variety of factors, including the military’s reluctance to see money diverted from its strategic rocket programmes into what the generals regarded as a vanity project. However a major cause was that there was such a shortage of skilled rocket engine designers after so many hopefuls had been murdered by Stalin in the 1930s that when the USSR’s leading (and surviving) rocket engineer Valentin Glushko dissociated himself from the programme, there was no one who could replace him. A designer of jet engines was repurposed for the role, creating a new, untried, engine. The launches of the N1 rocket resulted in the largest man-made non-nuclear explosions in history.
The project and its embarrassing failure was a state secret until the 1990s, prior to which the Soviets successfully denied they had ever had a manned lunar programme, which in part led to the cancellation of US moon missions after Apollo 17 as the race had already been won, seemingly by default.
While I have focused on the USSR, the same pattern of plunder, exodus, and purge was apparent in communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China, where the plunder phase was accompanied by mass murder, and Mao Tse-Tung used a purge to avoid marginalisation after the catastrophe of the inappropriately-titled ‘Great Leap Forward’, which was actually a state-induced famine that killed millions.
Every socialist party in a democracy promises an improved standard of living ‘for the many not the few’, but this will always be delivered by plunder, disguised as nationalisation and tax reform. The population left behind after the inevitable exodus will always be the most pliant, and the occasional purge, or cancellation, will keep them so. It is this way that a socialist regime becomes self-perpetuating, collapsing only when it loses the will to dominate.
While there are some, mostly the young, who regard socialism as historically inevitable, they seem naively unaware of its inevitable consequences. While such youthful naivety may seem touching at times, in an era of instantaneous access to massive amounts of detailed information it is also a rather tragic product of provably wilful ignorance.