“Real Socialism” Has Indeed Been Tried — And It’s Been a Disaster, by Ryan McMaken

Every time something called socialism collapses, the true believers say that it wasn’t “real socialism” that collapsed, because “real socialism” has never purportedly been tried. From Ryan McMaken at mises.org:

May 5th marks the 200th Anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, and in spite of inspiring a wide variety of political movements that have caused countless human rights disasters, Marx continues to be an object of admiration among many intellectuals and artists. One such example can be seen in Raoul Peck’s new film The Young Karl Marx which portrays Marx is a principled radical with a laudable thirst for justice.

Fortunately for Marx the man and his reputation, he never personally gained control of the machinery of any state. Thus, the dirty work of actually implementing the necessary “dictatorship of the proletariat” was left up to others. And those who attempted to bring Marxism into the light of practical reality, quickly found that applied Marxism brings impoverishment and the destruction of human freedom. 

Nevertheless, after a century marked by brutal socialist regimes based on various interpretations of Marx’s ideas, Marx’s rehabilitation often rests on the idea that “real socialism” has “never been tried.” That is, a truly “pure” socialist experience — as Marx presumably wanted — has always been tainted by the presence of bourgeois ideas or lingering capitalistic habits present in the state apparatus.

A typical example of this sort of thinking can be found in Noam Chomsky’s insistence that the obviously socialist regime in Venezuela is really “quite remote from socialism.” And it’s also notable in philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s 2017 article ” The problem with Venezuela’s revolution is that it didn’t go far enough” at The Guardian. 

In Zizek’s view, it seems, socialism can work if the habits and customs of the status quo are destroyed utterly and replaced by entirely new ways of thinking. Or, as Zizek’s describes it, old proverbs (i.e., modes of thought) must be totally replaced by new proverbs. For example:

Radical revolutionaries like Robespierre fail because they just enact a break with the past without succeeding in their effort to enforce a new set of customs (recall the utmost failure of Robespierre’s idea to replace religion with the new cult of a Supreme Being). The leaders like Lenin and Mao succeeded (for some time, at least) because they invented new proverbs, which means that they imposed new customs that regulated daily lives.

Thus, the problem in Venezuela is not that countless private business have been seized, property rights been destroyed, and countless citizens deprived of basic freedoms. No, the problem is that the Venezuelan regime was too conservative and failed to implement a total break with the past.

To continue reading: “Real Socialism” Has Indeed Been Tried — And It’s Been a Disaster

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