Socialism depends upon and presupposes material achievements which socialism itself can never create. Socialism is operative only in wealth situations brought about by modes of production other than its own. Socialism takes and redistributes wealth, but it is utterly incapable of creating wealth.1
Few Americans today would object were this devastating indictment leveled against communism. But to accuse the U.S.A. brand of democratic socialism of barrenness or sterility is to put the shoe on another foot. Are you actually implying, many will ask, that a vast majority of Americans are rapidly committing themselves to a will-o’-the-wisp? Eating the seed corn? Sponsoring parasitism? Yes, this is the charge, and I shall do my best to demonstrate its truth.
Socializing the means of production and socializing the results of production are but two sides of the same coin, inseparable in practice. The state that controls production is going to control the distribution of what is produced; and the state that distributes the product must, eventually, control production.
That inescapable fact is just as true in the United States, with its democratic socialism, as it is in Russia with its dictatorial socialism. In our own country, when we refer to the “planned economy,” we mean that wages, hours, prices, production, and exchange shall be largely determined by state directives—and not by free response to market decisions. Though our “welfare state” policies are currently more humane than their counterparts in Russia, socialism in both nations, whether having to do with the means or the results of production, rests on organized police force.
Socialism is more than a some-other-country folly. It demands a hard look at what our own American mirror reveals. My purpose is self-analysis, not a discourse on the political antics of power-drunk Russians.
Now to return to my opening assumption: Socialism depends upon and presupposes material achievements which socialism itself can never create.
This indictment has two parts: (1) there has to be wealth before wealth can be socialized; and (2) socialism cannot create the wealth in the first place.
With everyone’s wealth at zero, there is no one from whom anything can be taken. Many of our Pilgrim Fathers starved during the first three years of community communism because there was so little in the warehouse to dole out. Communism—or one of our numerous names for the same thing, the welfare state—presupposes the existence of wealth which can be forcibly extorted. Is this not self-evident?
There remains, then, only to show that socialism—the planned economy side of the coin—cannot give rise to the means of production; that is, state ownership and control of the means of production cannot create the wealth on which state welfarism rests.
The Pilgrims’ warehouse was empty because the communistic mode of production couldn’t fill it. The standard of living of the Russian people is so much lower today than our own because their avowed but not wholly practiced system is productively sterile.2 Such goods as the Pilgrims did produce during their first three years, or as the Russians now produce, can be explained only as the result of deviations from socialism: leakages of free, creative human energies! Had the Pilgrims practiced socialism 100 per cent, all the Pilgrims would have perished. Were the Russians practicing socialism 100 per cent, there would not be a living Russian. Life goes on in these and all other socialistically-inclined societies because their inhabitants do not practice the socialistic theory totally! If I can demonstrate this point, my original indictment becomes unassailable.
Plato’s Definition of Socialism
What actually is meant by total socialism? As a hint, here is a statement by Plato:
The greatest principle of all is that nobody, whether male or female, should be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative; neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. But in war and in the midst of peace—to his leader he shall direct his eye and follow him faithfully. And even in the smallest matter he should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals … only if he has been told to do so. In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it.3
The above quotation, however, does not describe socialism. It only outlines the extent to which an individual might become a selfless nonentity, willingly subserving a leader, dog fashion. If socialism were total, this recommended subservience would be brought about not by voluntary adoption but involuntarily, and by a master’s coercion. In short, total socialism means the total elimination of all volitional actions; it means people in the role of robots. Freedom of choice on any matter would be nonexistent. Coercion is of its essence.
Now, consider the nature of coercive force. What can it do and what are its limitations? This is to ask what can be done by and what are the limitations of a gun, a billy club, a clenched fist. Clearly, they can inhibit, restrain, penalize, destroy. These are the identical possibilities and limitations of law or decree backed by force. Nothing more! Law and decree cannot serve as a creative force, any more than can a gun.
Coercively directed action can create nothing. Consider the driving of an automobile. No person would be a safe driver if he had to think his way through each act of steering, accelerating, or braking. Add the time it takes for numerous decisions to travel from the brain to the hands and feet, and it becomes plain that if drivers operated this way, one wreck would follow another. Any person who knows how to drive has succeeded in relegating driving’s countless motions to the control of something akin to the autonomic nervous system. To know requires that one’s responses become as automatic as breathing or writing; that is, become conditioned reflexes.
Now, consider a situation in which the relationship between decision and action is greatly complicated: a gunman in the back seat employing his thinking to command even the minutest actions of the driver. There could be no driving at all!
No driving at all? None whatsoever! Try an experiment: A coat hangs over the back of a chair. Find a person intelligent enough to dismiss absolutely all his knowledge of a coat, and capable of refraining from any and all volitional action, one who can force himself to be utterly incapable of independent, volitional response. In this situation, instruct him how to don the coat. He’ll never get it on.
The above explanations and assertions, however, have to do only with the first essential of creative action, that is, volitional action. That coercion cannot induce even this is a fact that appears to be self-evident.