I was attracted to Marxism at a very early age. It was more than simply early teenage rebellion. In a world of many choices, I felt that perhaps Marx had found the key that unlocks human existence. I had already rejected the Catholicism of my youth, and at the ripe old age of ten had declared myself an atheist.
The philosophy of Marx seemed to fill the void that main stream religion had left. Ok, I had concluded that there is no God, but there still had to be a reason why we were here, and why men and women acted the why that they do. Marx provided the answer: economics. Landlord to tenant, boss to worker, government to citizen; there was a hierarchy of economic unfairness—and this tension between the have and the have-nots had been going on for millennia.
The answer was to abolish private property and establish a society built on the needs of all—not just the wealthy few. This, to me, seemed rational, sane—and compassionate. I devoured every piece of writing that Marx, Engels and Lenin had produced. Marx and Engels were the theoreticians, Lenin was the purveyor of the “How To” of revolution. In my mind, it all fit so perfectly that I could not comprehend why others did not see it and turn to the light of communism as a panacea of the world’s problems.
When I became an undergraduate student at NYU, I naturally gravitated to those fellow students who were like minded. I knew people who were members of the Socialist Workers Party and often attend their meetings with them and even met their presidential candidate.
I remember also attending the Communist Party, USA’s national convention as they presented their vision of America’s future—a communist one. The convention was replete with guerilla theater about the evils of American colonialism and 19th century chattel slavery.
But it still did not go far enough to my revolutionary inclined mind. I was then introduced to one of the leaders of an extreme Trotskyite group, a young woman who was a veritable encyclopedia of Marxism. I can’t recall anything she said that did not have a direct correlation to Marxism and revolution. She never spoke of her personal life; what foods she liked, if she was married or wanted to get married, or anything related to family. She was a one-woman, flesh and blood billboard of communist ethic.
This was the beginning of my awakening from my Marxist spell. Was this the type of person that socialism was going to produce—a Marxist automaton with no love of people, family or nature? I remember asking her about certain things that troubled me. In particular, the trail of blood left by Marxist regimes. There were the gulags of the USSR that Solzhenitsyn had so articulately written about. What about the Stalin purges and the show trials whose victims knew there would be no justice, only death. Then there were the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia. The communist leader of Cambodia, Pol Pot, had killed close to twenty five percent of the population in the mid-70’s.
The answer was always the same: it wasn’t really communism. But my rejoinder to her answer was also always the same: Than what is?
The writings of Marx tended toward the theoretical. The problem was, he never told us exactly how a communist government would function. It was Marx’s belief that the State as we know it would “wither away” leaving society to work for the common good without a functioning central government. But without a template for how to get to that point, and with many people who would have a lot to lose if their property was taken away, a Marxist revolution would devolve into chaos.
That chaos could only be controlled by force, and hence communism always turns to totalitarianism. Rather than the proletariat, “the people”, taking over, the old bourgeoisie was simply replaced by a new set of elites, bent on keeping power, and using anything at their means to do so.
This brings us to the resurgence of socialist thought in our own country. Many of those who desire a socialist America would agree with the aforementioned, but they would also point to the Nordic countries as an example of successful socialism. They tout the praises of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. What many of them fail to realize is that these countries are effectively abandoning socialism.
One of the first steps toward a socialist and then a communist society is the progressive tax. Of course, we have a form of that in America already, but the Marxist goes far beyond that. And have we not heard politicians float a “Soak the Rich” tax at levels exceeding 70% or more? Indeed, the Nordic countries had such taxes—and it led to stagnation, severe governmental debt, and long queues at the supermarket.
It is also clear to even the most liberal of pundits that the Venezuela experiment in socialism has failed, and it has failed miserably. For almost twenty years, the people of Venezuela suffered under hyper-inflation and scarcity. It has reduced the population to eating out of dumpsters, the absence of basic goods and services, and the lack of medicine and health care.
So, the question is: Why do we want to bring that system here where the economy is strong?
The answer is that Marxists and other socialist thinkers are defending an ideal. Socialists are not practical. They live in a parallel universe where the thought is that everybody can be happy—and that Marxist philosophy and socialism can really work. We hear talk of “democratic socialism” from the American Left. But is it democratic to take money from successful people who create jobs and give it to people who, for whatever reason, are less successful?
Today I am a strong believer in the free market and Christian values. I discovered there is much more to people and life than economics. That is not to say that many young, bright-eyed socialists and left-leaning people aren’t sincere in their desire for a more just society. Indeed, that is a goal we can all join hands on, as well as eradicating racism in all its forms. But we cannot do so with a system that handcuffs a healthy economy and diminishes incentives.
We would do well to learn the lessons of the past—and present—and keep the system that, while far from perfect, has brought prosperity to millions and has done more to lift mankind out of poverty than any other paradigm.
Joseph M Bianchi is an author and journalist based in Greenville, SC. He is a guest columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Gannett News. His latest book is the novel, Unnecessary Noises.