The term 'socialism' describes one of two opposing principles of governance – that the welfare of the clan/tribe/nation/whatever group is its basic purpose. In fact, until the 1950's, the definition of socialism was "the PRINCIPLE that individual freedom should be completely subordinated to the interests of the community" – (Concise Oxford Dictionary – Fourth Edition, 1951).
Karl Marx held that economic activity governed all of humanity's interests. While this is patently false, he and his fellow socialists were able to persuade many that centrally planned control of economic activity by the proletariat of a community was the best way to serve all the interests of that community.
As a result, by the early 1960's, that part of the establishment responsible for language had managed to get the definition of socialism changed to some variation of a SYSTEM where the means of production, distribution and exchange (i.e., the economy) is owned and controlled by the community as a whole (i.e., the state).
The question is, of course, who determines the interests of the community?
With only one exception, the early Roman Republic, the interests of every community have always been determined by a very small minority of the members of that community using the authority of the socialist principle. This minority might usefully be labelled the power elite or the establishment.
The establishment has always had four segments. In the beginning, the position of a headman or chief was supported by his hunters/warriors, his gofers/relatives and his shamans/witch doctors. For thousands of years pharaohs, kings, emperors, caesars, tzars and kaisers were supported by aristocrats/lords, court ministers/scribes and priests/scribes. In the so-called age of enlightenment we have had presidents, prime ministers, fuhrers, duces, secretaries and chairmen supported by the wealthy, the bureaucrats and the educators/advisors/consultants (Lenin's 'useful idiots').
These four segments of the establishment have mostly supported each other in order to maintain the orderly environment essential to their continued existence. Together, they have held the power to control all the institutions of government, which, in turn, have controlled the populations of all communities.
Through the ages, occasional revolts of their slave/serf populations have erupted and been ruthlessly put down. Contrary opinions cannot be tolerated – conventional wisdom must prevail for the establishment to function.
Always, the establishment has used the classic, collectivist wedges of tribalism (national interest) and/or religion and/or class to divide and control or drive their populations.
For millenia, the moral justification for their positional authority was based on faith and force instead of reason; "The will of the gods", "The Divine Right of Kings", "Obey your rulers for they are appointed by God".
The massive dislocations in western Europe from the mid-1300's to the mid-1800's – the little ice age; the plagues; the wars; the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment; the growth of science and mechanical inventions; the industrial revolution; and the discovery of 'new' continents – all combined to sharply increase populations and migrations and, more importantly, to create a new, aspiring 'middle class' between the establishment and their serfs.
At the same time, thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and many others were articulating the principles of personal freedom, equality and prosperity that characterized the other basic principle of governance – that the welfare of the individual person is its basic purpose.
This was powerful stuff and, as a defensive tactic, "The will of the people" came to be cited by the establishments in a few countries as the justification for their choices of the interests of their communities.
But that wasn't enough. By the early 1800's, rapid industrialization in parts of western Europe and North America had created a growing class of people who had moved from the countryside into dismal urban conditions as bare-survival employees in factories. They were labelled 'huddled masses' or 'ignorant masses' or 'proletariat'. Although a vast amount of new total wealth was being created by the industrial revolution, initially most of it increased the wealth of the establishment members who had built and financed the industrialization in the first place. As fair as this may be in theory, there is no question but that some people suffered some savage abuses at the hands of their new masters. And they weren't happy about it, so they were open to ideas about how their dismal conditions might be changed.
Two camps offered competing remedies.
The liberals proposed measures such as education, open markets, free trade, better housing, wages, working conditions and public health conditions that would enable individuals to see more clearly and strive more effectively to realize their potential. Essentially, they wanted to help people learn how to fish so they would always be able to feed themselves.
Although the principle was ancient, the term 'socialism' was coined at this time and from Saint-Simon to Marx, from Dickens to Shaw, socialists proposed to remedy the condition of their client class by giving them fish. Little concern was expressed about the source of the fish other than that they would come from either co-operative effort or robbing the wealthy. A handout instead of a hand up.
A multitude of schemes and groups were proposed and formed – a few were even tried, all over western Europe and North America.
The liberals tended to be persons from or close to both old-line factions of the establishment (Tories and Whigs in Britain) who sought to effect change primarily through the political process and legislated modification of the practices of government.
The socialists divided along three fault lines – Fabian idealists who advocated member-controlled, co-operative communities; Democrats who advocated the peaceful assumption of control of their countries' government institutions by election; and Radicals who advocated violent revolution and seizure of control.
All four promised their control would benefit their common client class immensely, at the expense of 'The Establishment'.
Over the hundred years from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth, the liberal approach secured a substantial improvement in conditions while the socialists largely laboured in vain. The radical socialists did manage to stir up occasional riots but they were mostly occupied with writing fiery pamphlets in secret basements or garrets. Labour Unions rose to become an activist subset of the democratic socialists, and by the 1920's, the Fabians had disappeared into the ranks of organized liberal or socialist parties.
And then occurred a crisis event essential to the success of radical socialism – World War I, 1914 to 1918.
Ten million soldiers were slaughtered and fifteen to twenty million were wounded on all fronts in World War I. They were virtually all aged 18 to 45 – young men in their prime – and virtually all from the non-establishment class. What had begun as a patriotic war for king, kaiser or country, in defence of freedom, justice and rights, came to be seen by many as a war between national establishments misusing their populations to do the fighting and dying.
And many in the common client class saw red and were open to considering any remedy that would replace the establishments that had forced such an incredible slaughter and chaotic aftermath upon them. They were no longer willing to accept the steady pace of change advocated by the liberal establishments or democratic socialists. They were ready for radical socialist revolution.
In Russia, Lenin, a fervent Marxist, had been advocating the violent overthrow of the Tzarist establishment since the mid-1890's. His conviction was that socialism could only be brought about by a small, highly-centralized, highly-disciplined party committed to leading the proletarian revolution anticipated by Marx.
His Democratic Socialist Workers Party was largely ineffectual because of the deadlock between his supporters and those members who advocated convincing enough of the proletariat to elect them to a majority in the Duma (the Russian legislature).
Lenin was finally able to take control of the Central Council of the party in 1903, whereupon he promptly named his supporters the Bolsheviki ('ins', in Russian) and the others the Menshiviki ('outs' in Russian).
Over the next 14 years of riots, depression, war, anarchy, exile and internal conflict, Lenin's Bolsheviks wrote a party manifesto, seized control of the Petrograd Workers and Soldiers Soviet ('council', in Russian) and created a private army of Red Guards.
Finally, in November 1917, the Bolsheviks, with only 200,000 members, cut through all the confusion at gunpoint and seized control of the institutions of the Russian government in Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg – the national capital at the time.
In March 1918, Lenin pulled Russia out of the war, changed the party's name to the Communist Party, moved the capital to Moscow and embarked on a ruthless, five-year campaign of battle, murder, banishment, imprisonment and eradication of opposition parties which consolidated the Communist-socialists in complete control of the institutions of government in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by 1922.
At the same time, in the midst of their terrible struggle to consolidate their positional authority, the Communists were aggressively exporting their model of revolution to remedy the ills afflicting all the other "workers of the world". Aided and abetted by the Comintern (Communist International) based in Moscow, copycat socialist parties all over the world began the process of turning the majority of the world's nations into single-party dictatorships and unleashing the horrors of the twentieth century in which hundreds of millions of people were slaughtered by people in the name of the people for the good of the people.
The Communist Party hierarchy, and those of the previous establishment who went along with them, became the new establishment in Russia.
In Italy, Mussolini was writing and editing various socialist newspapers like Avanti ('Forward'), and sitting high in socialist councils, in the early twentieth century. He enlisted in the Italian army in 1915, was wounded and discharged, and in 1917 assumed the position of editor-in-chief of a new socialist newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia ('The Italian People').
By 1918, he had become disillusioned with both the democratic socialists and the liberal establishment's inability to remedy the chaos in Italian society that had been horribly exaggerated by the war and was calling for a 'strong man' to sweep away the rot.
In 1919, he founded the 200-member Fascisti in Milan. ('Fasces' was the Latin name of the symbol of a magistrate's power in ancient Rome. It consisted of 12 wooden rods bound tightly around a battleaxe to symbolize the power of the original 12 tribes bound together in unbreakable unity.) The Fascists created a private army of Black Shirts, drafted a manifesto that Marx would have approved and began a campaign of bully tactics borrowed from radical socialists everywhere.
However, Italian Fascists were also intensely nationalistic and dreamed of establishing a new Roman Empire. The communist party was already active and was competing for support among the same client class as the Fascists. The Fascists were able to gain support among industrialists, the propertied class and other members of the existing establishment because they were not only promising to bring order out of chaos, but also to eliminate the Communist Party.
In 1922, Mussolini and his Black Shirts led the now-numerous Fascist Party's 'March on Rome' that took over the institutions of the Italian government. In short order, by murder, imprisonment, banishment and all the other measures of socialist dictators, Mussolini created the single-party, Fascist-socialist dictatorship in Italy.
The Fascist Party hierarchy, and those of the previous establishment who went along with them, became the new establishment in Italy.
In Germany, Hitler stayed in the army after the war and in September, 1919, was ordered to check out a tiny group of less than a hundred members called the German Workers' Party in Munich. The country was awash with socialist agitators and the army, intent on trying to preserve order as part of the establishment, was keeping a close eye on them all.
Hitler found a group of earnest amateurs who held some positions that he personally favoured. He was immediately named to the seven-man executive committee and in January, 1920, took over the party's propaganda and organizing functions. By the summer of 1920 he had assumed effective control of the party; helped draft its 25-point manifesto full of standard Marxist-style promises; renamed the party the Nazional Socialistische Deutsches Arbeiters Partei ('National Socialist German Workers' Party') – NSDAP or Nazi for short; designed all the symbols and flags the Nazis used to such advantage; and begun the formation of the party's private army of Brown Shirts.
Like many Germans, Hitler was pathologically convinced that the German army had been 'stabbed in the back' by the civilian government and forced to surrender without being defeated in WWI. Furthermore, the huge indemnities and territorial losses imposed by the Allies were felt by many Germans to be too onerous and too insulting for a major nation of the first rank to accept. Any self-respecting nation would require revenge, so they thought.
That nationalist fervor underlay all the other Nazi promises to restore order from chaos, improve the economic condition of the proletariat and wrest wealth from the Jews in Germany and lebensraum (living room) from Slavs and other untermenschen ('lesser human beings') in eastern Europe.
The existing establishment easily put down the Nazi's 'Beer Hall Putsch' in November 1923 and Hitler spent 8 months in jail writing Mein Kampf ('My Struggle') for the crime of trying to pull off his Mussolini-style coup.
The Nazis spent the next ten years in a life and death struggle with the Communist, democratic socialist and establishment parties for the soul of the nation and the votes of the same client-class. The Nazi's private army – the brown-shirted SA – grew to a fully armed gang of 400,000 thugs. Riots, parades, murder and mayhem were a regular feature of life in the decade, along with the Depression.
The industrialists, landowners, aristocracy and others of the establishment held the 'little Corporal' in contempt but liked his promises to restore German greatness, restore order and destroy communism. He promised change. They thought they could control him.
Finally, in January 1933 after the Nazis had secured 38% of the vote, Hitler was able to bully the senile President Hindenberg into naming him Chancellor because he seemed to be the only person capable of bringing order out of the chaos and depression threatening the collapse of the country. The Nazis promptly burned down the Reichstag (Germany's legislature), banned all other parties and began their programme of murder, imprisonment and control typical of life in the socialist dictatorship of the 'Thousand Year Reich'.
The National Socialist Party hierarchy, and those of the previous establishment who went along with them, became the new establishment in Germany.
Thus, in a breathtakingly brief time, three of the most important countries in the world had fallen to radical socialists and become dictatorships. In Russia, class was the major wedge, while in Italy the tribal (nationalism) wedge was added, and in Germany, all three wedges – class, tribalism and religion – were employed by the new establishments to control and drive their populations.
The Fascists and Nazis claimed to be different from, and bitter enemies of the Communists and managed to convince almost all the rest of the world that this was so. In reality, they were identical in all but the method by which they intended to take over the world. The Fascists and Nazis intended to conquer other countries by war. The Communists intended to take over other countries from within. All three parties sought and got support from the same client class and were begun by radical socialists.
And all were led by the three most powerful, smooth-tongued orators of the twentieth century who were able to move their audiences to uncritical adoration.
Orwell's 'Animal Farm' (1945) is the classic modern description of the process. In that short little story, the pigs convinced the other animals they would be better off if they banished farmer Jones and ran his farm themselves. After they had done so, the pigs moved into farmer Jones' house, ate his food, drank his liquor and forced the other animals to work much harder for them than they had had to work for farmer Jones.
Orwell's book was just one of many from the 1920's through the 1950's that attempted to fight back against the spread of the socialist menace. Argument was voluminous by both eminent scholars and some of the most prominent writers of popular fiction.
Among the first was 'Socialism' (1922) by the eminent Austrian economist, Ludwig Von Mises. It has been called the most thorough and devastating demolition of socialism ever written. In it, Von Mises critiqued every form of socialism and demonstrated how they all destroyed communities and reduced them to slavery, chaos and poverty. He continued to write and lecture well into the 1950's.
A student of Von Mises and another pillar of the Austrian school of economics, Frederik A. Hayek, wrote the classic 'The Road To Serfdom' (1944) in which he passionately warned of the dangers of state control over the means of production and clearly described the inverse relationship between individual freedom and government authority.
Both 'Socialism' and 'The Road To Serfdom' are still being published.
Aldous Huxley, in 'Brave New World' (1932), described a socialist "Utopia" wherein "Alphas" controlled a brain-deadened population of test tube clones and conditioned automatons who spent their days in meaningless work and their evenings in random sex, group play, surround-sound/feely/scented movies or virtual reality adventures/games. All were accompanied by the constant taking of the "soma" drug provided free of charge by the "Alphas". When he wrote 'Brave New World Revisited' (1958) Huxley declared he feared the socialist hell he had described was coming much faster than he had thought it would.
Sinclair Lewis wrote 'It Can't Happen Here' (1935) and Taylor Caldwell wrote 'The Devil's Advocate' (1952). Both depicted the misery of life in a United States that had become a one-party dictatorship. Interestingly they both described Canada as a nation of free people and a refuge for U.S. escapees.
George Orwell's other classic '1984' (1949) was a straightline projection into the future of conditions in the socialist dictatorships of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. While the date has come and gone, he did write about constant war demanding total control by the authorities, degradation of the language by 'newspeak' and criminal prosecution of 'unacceptable' opinion, among other grotesque violations of personal freedom.
Ayn Rand wrote two epic novels about the lives of individuals who struggled against the deadening degradation of conditions under socialism in a future U.S.A. In 'The Fountainhead' (1943), Howard Roark's testimony is perhaps the most powerful declaration of the value of the individual ever written. 'Atlas Shrugged' (1957), described what happened when the capable people finally shrugged and stopped 'doing for their country'.
Some books were made into movies starring the biggest names in Hollywood.
In case you think the process is modern, read how Joseph turned the people of ancient Egypt into slaves in Genesis, Chapter 41 and Chapter 47 – verses 13 through 26. All that's needed is a crisis event.
The crisis event of World War II enabled the capture of government institutions by radical socialists in eastern Europe, Red China and much of southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Many nations in northern Africa and South and Central America had long been held by one-party dictatorships using the authority of the socialist principle. The current situation is that three-quarters of the nations in the world are 'not free'.
In the 1920's –'30's, the 'western world' began using the grossly inaccurate terms of 'left' and 'right' to describe (supposedly) opposing party groupings. In Europe, it was Social Democrats versus Christian Democrats; in the U.K., Labour vied with Conservatives (with a tiny rumplet of Liberals hanging on by their fingernails); in the U.S.A., Democrats contended with Republicans.
In Canada, the apparent contention is between the (New) Democrats on the left, the Liberals in the middle and the Conservatives on the right. However, after World War II, the Liberal party abandoned any pretense of liberalism in their unprincipled hunger for power and joined the (New) Democrat socialists in policy and practice. There hasn't been a real alternative to the LiberalSocialists because the 'Progressive' Conservative party was different in name only. It changed its name to the Conservative Party, but in January 2009 brought in a budget planning a huge increase in debt that pandered to the threats and demands of the LiberalSocialists.
With only a little bit of tongue in cheek, it might save space to link 'Liberal' + 'Socialist' + 'Social Democrat' + 'Democrat' into 'LSD'. (For younger readers, LSD was a favoured hallucinogen of the 1960's 'druggie' culture. It made users see things that weren't there.)
The war of ideas in North America raged for forty years. But the tipping point was reached with the onset of the Kennedy regime in the U.S.A. and the Pearson-Kent regime in Canada in the early 1960's. And that was that. The LSD establishment had finally gained control of the agenda, the media and education.
There were brief breaks in the clouds with the Thatcher government in the U.K. and the Reagan administration in the U.S.A. but, when they were over, the inducements of entitlements to free bread and services were renewed with even greater vigour. All paid for with money from government; that government had taken from other people of course.
Canada never did enjoy a break.
[It's ironic that, since the 2000 federal election the U.S.A. has been demonstrating its history-challenged confusion by calling Republican states 'red' and Democratic states 'blue'!]
LSD's are relentless. It must be that the privileges, perqs and positional authority inherent in institutional employment are a powerful incentive to grow more and bigger institutions. When the piety of 'for the good of people' is added, it must be a hard-to-resist temptation.
And personal freedom and prosperity can be hard to achieve and maintain in an environment that despises them. How soothing to have someone else say they'll look after everything – if you just trust (vote for) them.
But serfdom and slavery are much much worse! The problem is they sneak up on uncareful victims who relax their vigilance while pursuing the 'good life'.
North America is the last bastion of memory of classical liberal personal freedom and prosperity. It has been under attack since the end of WWII by the Communist socialists and their fellow-travelling LSD's. Cold War military conflict, both directly and by proxies, was tried. Economic competition was tried. Attempts were made to exploit internal divisions of tribalism and class. Nothing worked completely but the counter efforts were costly and enervating.
Currently, we are in the midst of three crisis events: the real crisis of radical terrorism poses a physical challenge; the fabricated carbon dioxide crisis, which is causing hysterical governments to pander to the Global Warming/Climate Change Swindlers, is a serious threat to our overall economic health; and the banking/financial crisis, fabricated by super-zealous LSDs and 'Davos Men', is being peddled as a 'catastrophe' if trillions of dollars of new taxpayer debt is not piled on top of the existing back-breaking pile.
Will this daunting combination of crises be enough to bring us down? Can we resist the final fall into socialist dictatorship? Will new voices emerge to trumpet the advantages of personal freedom and prosperity inherent in classical liberalism and lead us out of danger?
These are the questions hanging over all our heads today.
Charles W. Conn, Mississauga. February 2009