By Seth Richardson
The specter of Karl Marx hovers over our land like the bony hand of death, and Bolsheviks creep among the hedgerows, waiting to drag us all kicking and screaming into Communism, or so Rush Limbaugh would have us believe. But is it true? And if it is, why would that be a bad thing?
That’s the subject of this debate. You are invited to participate by adding your thoughts and comments below.
Benjamin Tucker (1854 -1939), a noted American anarchist and writer and publisher of Liberty, an anarchist periodical, wrote the following in his 1886 essay “State Socialism and Anarchism: How far they agree, and wherein they differ.”
“First, then, State Socialism, which may be described as the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by the government, regardless of individual choice.
Marx, its founder, concluded that the only way to abolish the class monopolies was to centralize and consolidate all industrial and commercial interests, all productive and distributive agencies, in one vast monopoly in the hands of the State. The government must become banker, manufacturer, farmer, carrier, and merchant, and in these capacities must suffer no competition. … The nation must be transformed into a vast bureaucracy, and every individual into a State official. … Individuals not being allowed to own capital, no one can employ another, or even himself. Every man will be a wage-receiver, and the State the only wage-payer. He who will not work for the State must starve, or, more likely, go to prison. All freedom of trade must disappear. … There would be no foundation of society upon a guaranteed equality of the largest possible liberty. Such liberty as might exist would exist by sufferance and could be taken away at any moment. Constitutional guarantees would be of no avail. There would be but one article in the constitution of a State Socialistic country: ‘The right of the majority is absolute.’”
This treatise on socialism and anarchy is one of the clearest and most succinct explications of the distinction between what we now call Communism (State Socialism) and classical Anarchism, many components of which make up modern Libertarianism.
One core principle of socialism is its belief that the only true value of goods is the value of the labor needed to produce them, as Adam Smith held in his famous treatise “The Wealth of Nations,” where he said, “Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities. The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.”
Smith went on with his economic observations, but Marx and other socialists stopped at this, and claimed it as a guiding principle of socialism, of the way things ought to be, not, as Smith was observing, the way things actually are. The objection of socialism is not in the accumulation of capital, it is objection to who holds the capital and the means of producing it, and it is objection to the capitalist triumvirate of evil; interest, rent and profit, which Marxism holds to be usury on the part of the capitalist for the use of some commodity that has already been fully paid for by the labor of the proletariat.
The definition of socialism is a slippery one though, and it’s not amenable to singular definitions as each of the various branches and stages of socialism propose different models of the root concept of collectivism and government intervention in the markets. Nearly all versions of socialism however hold to the precept that civil justice cannot be realized without economic equality, and that it is the purpose of government to “level the playing field” in order to provide justice and equality for all.
The problem with all forms of socialism is that they seek to level the playing field by dragging everyone down to the lowest common denominator of economic equality through government force. Socialism is based on the faulty precept that in order for everyone to win in society, some must lose economically, and that therefore the individual competition of Smith’s “invisible hand” must be controlled and prohibited in order to provide justice for all, regardless of the cost to individual liberty and actual prosperity. Socialism holds that it is better that all suffer in egalitarian comradeship than that some obtain and enjoy a disproportionate share of common resources and capital.
Capitalism, on the other hand, holds to the precept that a rising tide lifts all ships, even the smallest and meanest dinghy, and that markets free of government regulation that serves the socialist cause of leveling the economic playing field will instead naturally lift the standard of living for all. The excesses of entrepreneurial capitalism provide opportunity and incentive for everyone to exercise the best in themselves in the hope of social advancement and economic prosperity, something socialism forbids per se. Further, capitalism recognizes that the right to private property and the added value in the process of accumulating and loaning capital for profit to others for the production of commodities and therefore the creation of wealth, ensures economic prosperity for all of society as well as securing individual liberty and happiness.
The divide between the two social forms appears to be an unbridgeable gulf based on core values that are mutually opposed: the socialistic principle that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and the capitalistic principle that preservation of individual liberty and encouragement of initiative best serves the needs of all.
So, what is it that President Obama promises us? Is the Democrat Left intent on establishing state socialism and making slaves of us all? Is the Constitution truly in peril? Or do the objectives of the Democrats only have the appearance of a shift towards socialism? If so, what is their true intent and purpose? Is the “social justice” movement thinly-disguised Marxism, or is it a well-meaning but misguided attempt at play-field leveling that will do more harm than good to our economy?
How far down the path of socialism can our society go before it finds itself inextricably on the slippery slope to communism, given that Marx describes socialism as an intermediate step between capitalism and communism wherein the “dictatorship of the proletariat” has not yet been perfected?