The Failure of Marxism: by John Dos Passos
Just a few notes from Classical Liberalism blog
When we hear about fascism, naturally many first start to think about nationalism, militarism and antisemitism of Hitler’s National Socialist Germany or perhaps similar things about Italy’s Fascist Mussolini. Once you peel the top layers back, one will see that fascism is socialism in disguise.
Keynes’ most important book, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, was first published in 1936 and was immediately hailed by Socialists everywhere. It is important to stress that Mrs. Joan Robinson, an internationally recognized Marxist, was one of the main economic experts who collaborated with Keynes on his project. Another leading Socialist economic expert, R. F. Kahn, contributed so much that “his share in the historic achievement cannot have fallen very far short of co-authorship.”
Mrs. Joan Robinson was highly regarded by Keynes, who in The General Theory generously praises her for her contribution to his work. It is therefore important to note carefully Mrs. Robinson’s statement that the differences between Marx and Keynes are only verbal. Writing in the Communist journal, Science and Society, winter, 1947, p. 61, Mrs. Robinson said: “‘The time, therefore, seems ripe to bridge the verbal gulf.” The only real difference between the Marxians and the Fabians is one of degree and tactics.
As an economic system, fascism is SOCIALISM with a capitalist veneer. In its day fascism was seen as the happy medium between liberal (Free market) capitalism and revolutionary MARXISM. Fascism substituted the particularity of nationalism and racialism—“blood and soil”—for the internationalism of both classical liberalism and Marxism.
Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society’s economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. Where socialism nationalized property explicitly, fascism did so implicitly, by requiring owners to use their property in the “national interest”—that is, as the autocratic authority conceived it. (Nevertheless, a few industries were operated by the state.) Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism left the appearance of market relations while planning all economic activities. Where socialism abolished money and prices, fascism controlled the monetary system and set all prices and wages politically. In doing all this, fascism denatured the marketplace. ENTREPRENEURSHIP was abolished. State ministries, rather than consumers, determined what was produced and under what conditions.
Source: Concise Encyclopedia of Economics-Fascism
Here we can see that fascism gives the illusion that “private property” exists so long as it is used for the “greater good”, “national good”, “public good”, and so on.
Communism and socialism are more honest about what they claim to be: they admit that no one has a private life any longer, and that all goods, services, and human beings are the property of the state. One may argue, as I do, that this is evil, but it is also honest.
Fascism, however, is both dishonest and evil. The fascists claim that there is such a thing as private property, with all the responsibilities of ownership, and the facade of ownership — yet, the state controls the “owner’s” every decision on penalty of fine or imprisonment (or both).
In the ultimate analysis, there is no real difference between any of these systems. The divergences in specifics of ideology are debatable in academia but not to the regular individual being oppressed by the State. All hold human beings as right-less. Individuals cannot act freely provided that they respect the rights of others; they can only act with permission from the state.
John Dos Passos1896-1970
Both socialism and communism, as they actually work out, betray the hopes for the better life that they once inspired.
“Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.” – Thomas Sowell
Picture: Beguiled by Utopian visions, many wishful thinkers refuse to recognize the facts of socialism as it has worked out in practice. This drawing by Abner Dean, shows bewildered men and women, including two who are gagged and so can ask questions only with their eyes, watching a self-deluded, “wooly-headed” artist happily at work.
Not long ago I found myself talking to a pleasant and well-informed woman reporter in a newspaper office in a prosperous city in the Middle western corn belt. Although the region is usually chalked up as “black Republican” in politics, the paper she worked for wore a “liberal” complexion. I was trying to explain to her that socialism as I had seen it working last summer in Great Britain was not necessarily a force for progress. “But I thought you were a liberal,” she kept saying almost tearfully, “and now you have turned reactionary.” “The socialists are the conservatives now,” I told her, “and the communists are the real reactionaries.” But she remained unconvinced. The reason our conversation was so fruitless was that she decided that certain words like “liberal,” “labor” and “rationing” had a virtuous connotation and there was no way of getting her to look directly at the events that lay behind the words.
It was just this sort of wall of incomprehension you used to meet years ago when you argued the right of working people to form unions and to strike for improved working condition, or tried to explain that we ought to show a sympathetic interest in the social experiments that were going on in the Soviet Union. Then it was the capitalist slogans that were holding the fort; but during the past 20 years a new set of words has gradually become charged with a virtuous aura in the public mind. Now public ownership, planned economy, controls and socialized, have become words heavy with virtue, while profits, free enterprise, investment and even dividends have taken on an evil context that needs to be explained away.
Picture: Work reproducing on canvas the scene which is spread before him. Where there is starvation he smugly paints a land flowing with milk and honey, where there is ugliness he is charmed by beauty, where there is slavery he finds a life of gracious ease, where there is graceless, violent death he sees only a graceful swan placidly swimming in its pond.
The public mind in America that 20 years ago dismissed unheard anything that smacked of a socialistic notion is now receptive to socialistic notions. Partly this comes from a reasoned change of attitude brought about by the success of some of the socialistic measures of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but partly it comes from the unthinking acceptance of the vocabulary of “liberal” propaganda that spread out in ripples from New Deal Washington, becoming vaguer and more confused and more destructive of clear thinking as the ideas that engendered it lost their vitality at the source. It is in this confused region of the popular mind that the communists have been able to carry on their most successful propaganda operations. Thus it comes to pass that the “liberals” who think a man is defeated in argument when they call him a “reactionary” show very little curiosity about the actual functioning of socialistic-going concerns that have come into being in the last 20 years. The “liberal” vocabulary that had some meaning in the 1920’s has now become a definite hindrance to understanding events in the world of the ‘40s.
Exactly 100 years have passed since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels issued the Communist Manifesto, which became the first document in the formulation of modern socialism. Nineteen years later the bible of Marxism, Dos Kapital, was published, giving immense documentation to Marx’s theories that the collapse of capitalism was imminent; that it would inevitably be followed by a socialist utopia.
In the 1920’s there were a number of us in the U.S. who were convinced that this doctrine was valid. Those of us who were willing to be called socialists had some definite things in mind we thought would be achieved if ownership of industry were taken out of the hands of the finance capitalists and vested in the community.
We thought public service could be substituted for money profit as the driving motive of human behavior. We thought that with the ascendancy of an anti-militarist working class throughout the world war, and the threat of war would be replaced by peaceful cooperation in the international affairs. Of course it must be admitted that we were caught by the illusory belief that revolution would instill utopia. We were carried away by the blind enthusiasm for a new dispensation at hand that was sweeping the masses of the Western World. The revolutions have happened and regimes and empires have crashed in the mud, but the old problem of how to control man’s domination by man remains unsolved.
Enough socialized systems and institutions have been going concerns over a long enough period of time for us at least to begin to get some idea of how they are working out. It’s a most curious comment on the blindness induced by dogmatically held beliefs that in all the avalanches of print for and against socialism and free enterprise there’s so little comparative examination of capitalist and socialist organizations; there’s so little effort to try to discover how they work out for the men and women directly involved.
First let me give an example of a socialized institution that seems to me to have been a success. Rural electrification was one of the New Deal’s pet projects. It encouraged the establishment of local committees that gave a much needed impetus to local self-government in a very important field. Not only did it furnish increased electric service all over the country but by its brisk competition it shook the private companies out of their lethargy, so they greatly increased their service too.
At the other end of the scale in the experience of the average American come the Army and the Navy. We are not accustomed to thinking of the Army and the Navy as socialized institutions but that is exactly what they are. We all admit that in the time of ruin and rapine in which we live we can’t do without these vast engines for waste and destruction, but I’ve yet to meet a veteran of wither of these services who thinks that the Army way or the Navy way or even the Air Force way is the best way of running human affairs. About the best face we can put on our military establishment is to say that in spite of its cumbrous bungling it so far has managed to defeat our enemies in battle, and that up to now our civilian setup for production has been so monstrously efficient that we’ve been able to afford the waste of materials and the frustration of individual effort that the military system implies.
As citizens of a self-governing community it is our first duty continually to be asking ourselves what it is we want from our institutions.
At home in America we have seen enough of the working of socialized enterprises, successful and unsuccessful, to begin to understand the basic problem. We must realize that from the point of view of the well-being of men and women the contradiction is not between “capitalism” and “socialism” but between the sort of organization that stimulates growth and the sort that fastens on society the dead hand of bureaucratic routine or the suckers of sterile vested interests. We should by now have learned that the road must be kept open for experiment. We should have begun to learn that no society is stronger than its weakest members. By our habit of government we are committed to trying to keep a rough balance between the demands of different sections of the population. We haven’t solved the problem of defending every man’s freedom against domination by other men, but we have made a little bit of a beginning.
The museum of socialist failures
The rest of the world is becoming a museum of socialist failures. Our first problem now is to understand clearly the needs of our society and its relationship to the shaky socialized regimes of Europe and to the regime of the law of the club that centers in the Soviet Union. To do this we must free our minds of the stale and rotting verbiage left over from the noble aspirations of oldtime socialist theory.
It was failure to see the world clearly on the part of Franklin Roosevelt and his advisers that deprived us of the fruits of our wartime victory to the point that the things Americans hold most dear are in greater peril today than on the dreadful afternoon of Pearl Harbor. The responsibility for this loss of the peace lies not only in the small group of political leaders in Washington but the whole body of thinking Americans whose thinking had just not caught up with the times.
The basic reason for this national failure was that as a nation we had forgotten that our sort of self-governing community can survive only in a world where new avenues for men’s ingenuity and enterprise are constantly opening up and where the areas of individual liberty are expanding. We had forgotten that liberty, like peace, is indivisible. We had forgotten that the only sensible foreign policy for the U.S. was to encourage liberty and oppose oppression.
While not forgetting our own shortcomings, if we are to catch up with the times and to see clearly the hideous world of growing servitude—a world of slavery like chattel slavery in the old South and the slavery of ancient times—which we have helped produce, we must understand the workings of the enemies of liberty and peace. The chief of these, in power and efficacy, is the government of the Soviet Union.
Wilson and Lenin
When the communist revolution exploded in Russia in the fall of 1917 the first World War had settled down to a stalemate along the trenches in northern France. The stubborn resistance the French were putting up to the equally stubborn German invasion was bleeding Europe to death. Among the rank and file of all the armies the feeling of mutiny against the senselessness of the butchery was rising to desperation. At that time two separate flares of hope appeared on the eastern and western horizons. In Washington Woodrow Wilson announced his Fourteen Points and in Petrograd Lenin and Trotsky fired the hungry and disorganized Russian mobs with the belief that communism would bring them peace, land and food. No one who was in Europe in 1917 and 18 can ever forget the surge of crazy confidence in the future that swept the Continent when Armistice Day came and the fighting stopped.
The people’s trust in the American way faded as Wilson let himself be trapped into the stale committee rooms of the old men or councils. To many of us at the time these soviets seemed to be a new organ for self-government. For a moment it looked as if the working class under the Marxist leadership would succeed in renovating Europe.
It was not to be so easy. The old vested interests of Europe banded together for their own protection; by backing the reactionaries in the Russian civil war they ruined the hopes of free development for the new social system. The Communist party hardened fast into a military caste. The soviets and trade unions in the Soviet Union, instead of developing into organs of self-government, developed into machines run by tightly organized and fanatically dogmatic Marxist minority for the domination and exploitation of the masses. Lenin threw overboard the humanitarian baggage of Western socialism, and act symbolized in the transfer of the capital from European Petrograd to Asiatic Moscow. The civil war became a struggle for order, any kind of order. The only order the Russians knew was despotism. From the czarist autocracy the Communist government inherited the secret police. Individual liberty had hardly a breathing spell before it was stamped out again, first in the unorganized mass of people and then, as Stalin struggled for power against Trotsky, within the communist minority itself.
By the early ‘30s the social organization of the Soviet Union resembled much more the slave-run military autocracy of the Ottoman Turks than it did any of the European blueprints for a socialist utopia. This reaction to methods of government that had gradually been losing favor among civilized men for 500 years was accompanied by the building up of one of the most extraordinary propaganda facades in history. A constitution was promulgated on the Western model. The entire vocabulary of Western self-government was borrowed and applied to the machinery of despotism.
Utopia—with secret police
By killing off the old European trained Communists and exiling Trotsky, Stalin cleared out of the old Kremlin the last traces of Western humanitarianism. The organization of a free self-governing socialist community, which had been the first aim of the Russian revolutionists, was pushed forward in the future, when the millennium should come. Through the pull of this millennial dream Stalin’s regime managed to retain its grip over the aspirations of a large part of European working class. The Communist party, appealing through this basic utopian dogma to the emotions of confused and tortured people, backed and kept in line by the ruthless and skillfully exercised authority of the secret police, managed to create one of the most efficient machines for dominating and exploiting of mankind the world has ever seen.
It seems likely, from what we hear faintly through the screen of lies that hems in the Soviet Union, that there the illusions have lost their power in the face of the regime’s failure to produce even the rudiments of decent living for its subjects, and that the Kremlin now rules a depraved and exhausted people by brute force. Outside the Soviet Union, however, the utopian illusions of Communism still dominate many men’s hopes and dreams. Even some Americans opposed to the communists still talk as if it were an excess of progressiveness and idealism that caused Russian socialism to fail. We find Frenchmen and Americans and Canadians, in all other respects apparently capable of sane and normal thinking, who are willing to turn their backs on the traditions they were brought up in and to give their allegiance to the Kremlin, even to the point of committing treason. The success of the aggressions by the Soviet state in the last few years rests in great part on the Kremlin’s command over the adherents and sympathizers in the outside world. Largely because the rest of the world has not understood it the Russian socialized state has been allowed to develop into a military force for pillage and conquest. Still the faith of many of our “liberals” in the Kremlin’s idealistic aims has not faltered.
Those of us who believed in socialism in the ‘20s hoped it would promote self-government, expand individual liberty and make for a wider distribution of the good things of life. It is obvious even to Mr. Henry Wallace that the Soviet Union is not the place to look for these things. Not even the American communists really claim any of these achievements; what they say among themselves is that present miseries will be atoned for by the regime of justice and bliss that will be established once communism has completed its conquest of the world.
The Russians are barbarians, the Western socialists will tell you; in England it will be different.
How different is it? If you go around Great Britain asking questions of as many different kinds of people as possible, as I did last summer, you sense that in its ultimate implications British socialism is turning out to be not so very different from the Russian brand. Of course there’s not the gory police terror of Stalin nor the Hitlerian pomp and parade through which the Kremlin daily expresses its power over the bodies and minds of men. There’s not the proselytizing enthusiasm of a quasi-religious dogma that accompanies the agents and armies of expanding Russia. There’s not the daily and visible and universal servitude; but neither has the socialism brought any broadening of personal liberty. On the contrary: personal liberty in Great Britain has been contracted.
The very humane and well-intentioned people who are running the Labor government are the first to deplore the losses of liberty you bring to their attention. They reassure you with pious hopes that the “direction of labor” measure, which limits the individual’s right to work where or when he likes, will be only a passing phase. Listening to the pious hopes, I couldn’t help remembering similar reassurances from equally humane and well-intentioned Russian communists who used to tell me, in the early days, that military communism was a passing phase which would disappear as soon as reactionary opposition was crushed. Thirty years have gone by, and military communism marches on to fresh massacres. A man has a right to ask the British Labor party whether 30 years from now direction of labor won’t be the cornerstone of a new system of exploitation of the productive workers by a new ruling class.
If there is one thing that mankind should have learned from the agonies of the last four decades it is that it’s never safe to do evil that good may come of it. The good gets lost and the evil goes on.
Distribution of poverty
Of course we must admit that the present situation of the people of Great Britain would be difficult enough if a choir of archangels, superhuman in brains and in self-abnegation, had assumed the government. The island’s economy was built up as the processing and financing center of an empire, which has irrevocably gone. The class that had ruled that economy through control of government, ownership of the land and domination of centralized finance and industry had become overweening rich and powerful. In their wealth and self-satisfaction the owners of Britain neglected to keep their industries tooled up to date or to protect the standard of living of their working people or to conserve their natural resources. When the Labor government came in after the war it inherited a concern that had long been bankrupt.
Government control of virtually the entire economy had already been instituted during the war. About all the Labor government has done is to amplify the wartime apparatus of bureaucratic management. The living standards of the working people who were Labor’s chief constituents had improved during the war, and the Labor government has continued that improvement, particularly for the lowest-paid third. Because there isn’t enough to go around anyway, this has been done at the expense of the middle class, traditionally the nursery of British brains and initiative. Virtually everybody has been reduced by high taxes and high prices to the same bare level of subsistence. Incentive for effort and innovation has tended to disappear. A man is better off if he soldiers along in the shop and spends his Saturdays betting on the races than if he works himself sick trying to rise in the world. The more his income rises the more taxation will take his earnings away from him and the more he’ll feel the dead weight of the bureaucratic tangle hampering his every move.
Bernard Baruch’s remark that socialism might not succeed in distributing wealth, but would certainly distribute poverty, has never been better exemplified. Up to now socialism in Great Britain has accomplished very little more than to freeze the bankrupt capitalist economy at its point of collapse. Its bureaucratic machinery, operating along the lines of the machinery of bankrupt capitalism, has not been able to stimulate the sort of revolutionary initiative thoroughgoing reorganization of the economy that might give the British people a chance to escape from their dilemma. Socialism has acted as a brake instead of as a stimulus to enterprise.
Man does not live by bread alone, the socialists will tell you. The answer is that as strong as the urge to eat, is the urge to exercise power over other men. In the past British institutions have done a moderately good job in curbing this deadliest of insticts. But in spite of political democracy British capitalism too often gave too much power to people whose only social gift was the knack of accumulating money. Now British socialism gives too much power to people whose only knack is getting themselves elected to offices in trade unions. At the same time the liberty movement and the freedom of action that allowed people to escape from under the heel of the capitalist have been seriously weakened.
The wrong leaders
England has a new ruling class. Added to such remnants of the old ruling class as have remained in office through holding administrative jobs in government, industry and the civil service, is an infusion of new blood from the trade-union leadership, leavened by an occasional intellectual who has talked or written his way into office. Now, the main training of trade-union officials is in hamstringing production for the purpose of wringing concessions from the owners for the workers. Neither idealistic intellectuals nor civil service employees have any training in industrial production. The result is that at the very moment when the British people need to throw all their energy into discovering new ways of production and training from doing anything effective to stimulate production. In recent months there has developed a tendency to give technicians an increasingly bigger share in policy-making, but on the whole Britain’s new ruling class tends to be so blinded by the utopian glamour of the word “socialism” that it has found it difficult to envisage the problem which confronts the nation.
Well if the government can’t help them, why can’t they help themselves? The British people, in my opinion, represent in themselves at this moment just about the highest development of Western civilized man. In the middle and upper classes you find a higher level of education than we have reached in America. The level of individual skill and craftsmanship in most trades is higher than ours. In the professionally trained part of the population, though there may be some flagging of creative spirit, there’s still a great reservoir of first-rate brains. The British people proved themselves to be still a great people by the dignity and discipline with which they fought off the German air attacks during the war. This great highly trained, highly disciplined and civilized nation is in danger of dying of inanition because in all the elaborate structure of the state there are so few cracks left where individual initiative can take hold.
The British will tell you that they are “quite free, quite.” But we don’t need to believe them. When a man can’t change his job without permission from someone sitting at an office desk, when he can’t perform any of the normal operations of buying and selling necessary to carrying on a business without a complicated correspondence to secure licenses from the Board of Trade, when he can’t appeal to the courts from administrative decisions, when he can be sentenced to jail for refusing to work in the mines, he’s no longer a free agent. The Briton still has his secret ballot in parliamentary and municipal elections. He’s free because he can vote, he’ll tell you. Unfortunately the record of history tends to prove that it’s very doubtful whether the vote alone, without economic and personal liberty of action, has ever protected any people against the exercise of arbitrary power.
A sinister footnote to the loss of concern for individual liberty that seems inevitably to follow the socialization of enterprise appears in the growing toleration of new forms of slavery. We are growing used to the stories of the vast slave camps in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, but it comes somewhat as a shock to find the humane British tolerating the use of gangs of German prisoners to do agricultural labor. In all my conversation with farmers in England last summer I found only one man who disapproved of the practice. The farmers paid the prisoners nothing more than pocket money. The farmers found that they got more work out of prisoners if they fed them a hot meal in the middle of the day, but they didn’t seem to feel that the working of prisoners of war in this way constituted a backsliding in civilization; most of them regretted that the prisoners would soon be sent home. The wages of agricultural workers in England have been much improved in recent years and the socialists take justifiable pride in this achievement. The question they didn’t ask themselves when they tolerated the enslavement of the defeated Germans was how long a highly paid plowman or tractor operator would be able to compete with slave labor.
This brings us squarely up against the dilemma of our time. Under the cover of the dazzle of socialist illusions, and just at the moment when our technology is opening up the certainty of really widespread well-being in material things, the masses of mankind are being plunged back into a regime of misery and servitude such as has not existed in the West since the days of serfdom. We can’t go on forever blaming on war damage a situation that results from the fact that socialized economics, instead of opening up new aspects of self-government and broader reaches of liberty for the individual, have backslid with dizzy speed into aboriginal oppressions. In the Soviet Union, failure to solve the problems of production at home has thrown Russian communism into a dangerous habit of aggression upon the rest of the world. As for Great Britain, we can hope they will find a way to combine socialism with liberty, or at least that the failure of socialized economy to provide its people with a decent life at home will produce a new explosion of British migration and colonization that will transmit to the future world of the West the valuable heritages from English culture. In America what we don’t want to forget is that we won’t have any Western world fit for a free man to live in unless we keep the avenues open for freedom and growth of individual man in the constantly proliferating hierarchical structure of modern industry.
Socialism is not the answer, we’ve got to do better than that.
This article was published in magazine Jan 19, 1948. With Barack Obama and the modern democrat party we see history repeating itself, why do we want to establish in America which has been the greatest engine for the promotion of man and his ambitions with a failed concept that has been tried again and again with the same history of utter failure. You can see the results of socialism more pronounced now than at any other time in history, you need only to look at what is happening in Greece, France, Spain, etc. It is apparent throughout the world socialism, marxism, communism, fascism, leninism, etc., are truly the “failed policies of the past.” All the democrats ever put forth are the “failed policies of the past” or while they do not offer solutions themselves, they simply demonize republican solutions, then blame the republicans for being obstructionists. Ridiculous!