To start, let me make a key point: socialism is not at root about economics. This is why endless attempts by Conservative publications to promote better economic education fall on deaf ears among leftists. The conservatives claim socialism has failed, but the socialists say, for us, no it hasn’t. “You capitalists are focusing on the wrong outcome.” In fact, economic education is only useful if the political culture values wealth creation. Socialists do not. Every socialist “experiment” in history has been a failure with respect to abolishing poverty. (A recent book by Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, documents the entire history of the economic failure of socialism). It is quite clear that socialism has created poverty wherever it has been tried (e.g., Soviet Russia, Communist China before it reversed course and welcomed capitalism). But that does not stop socialists from trying it anyway (e.g., Cuba, Venezuela).
So, what is actually behind socialism? It is motivated by a certain ideal, a certain view of morality which is the opposite of capitalist morality. Socialism is based on the doctrine of altruism, the morality of self-sacrifice. (Altruism, which means that your life belongs to others, is not the same as helping personally valued friends and relatives). In contrast, capitalism is based on the morality of self-interest, which means the right to trade freely with others and to profit from it. In a free, capitalist country, everyone does not come out the same because people differ in their ability, ambition, effort, persistence, and integrity.
Luck can play some role in life; for example, you may run across a creative idea in a chance conversation with someone else. But such an idea will not help one unless one recognizes it as a useful idea, make plans to execute it, and then take the needed action. People may also differ in their backgrounds such as family income. This is not unfair if the family earned their money honestly. That money does not belong to anyone else. It is not fair to try to make people feel unearned guilt if they worked hard to succeed with what they were given.
Is there a way around the fact that everyone does not start life in the same circumstance? Well, there is the policy of ancient Sparta. Children were taken by law from their parents at birth, raised in state institutions, and released at about age 18. This is a form of totalitarianism that even the Communists did not stoop to, although they did something similar by making all children go to state (Communist) schools. Socialists do want to promote universal literacy. This may sound appealing; who could be against teaching every child to read and write? But what is the real motive of making all kids go to socialist run schools?
To understand the motive for socialist education, we first must understand socialist politics. By socialist, I mean that the government owns the means of production. Calling Sweden socialist is simply dishonest; it is a welfare state just like most free countries, though with a higher tax rate than many. Socialism may occur as a result of a violent revolution or through elections. Socialists who first get elected do so under the promise that everyone will have some sort of a guaranteed life which includes a good standard of living. But this promise cannot be met because socialism causes and sustains poverty. When the voters see they have been deceived, they start to complain; this threatens the whole socialist state. To protect their power socialists must start by limiting, and ultimately abolishing, freedom of the press, and the airwaves (and internet communication). They also work to fix subsequent elections. They limit who can run for office. They limit airtime for unapproved candidates. They work to gain control over counting the ballots. They may check on how people vote and can even make getting food dependent on voting the right way. Still, people may oppose the government, so demonstrations are outlawed. Eventually, the government must set up a force of secret police to ferret out troublemakers. (Venezuela uses Cuban and Russian secret police to keep order). The police are used to identify harass, threaten, torture, imprison and/or kill dissidents. Some socialist states allow emigration (fewer people to feed and to make trouble?) and some do not.
Now let us go back to education. Ideally, education involves giving children basic skills which include learning how to think. But teaching people how to think is too risky under socialism. People must be taught to obey socialist dogma. Otherwise, people might start thinking for themselves; they might expose government failures, contradictions, lies, and corruption. They might want more freedom. That cannot be allowed. So schooling, whatever else it does, must include large doses of socialist propaganda. Students who complain can be immediately threatened and readily be targeted as possible future dissidents. In short, rather than encourage the development of the mind, socialist schools must work to stultify or rigidify it in the realm of politics. Independent thinking is discouraged or forbidden and replaced with orders to memorize socialist (Marxist) propaganda. When emigration is allowed, millions of people, those who want freedom of thought and opportunity, emigrate to countries where they have the right to live as human beings.
Socialists claim that they will bring people to a higher moral plane. But that plane is actually lower. Citizens must constantly look for “traitors” to the cause (e.g., those who expose corruption or want freedom) and inform on them, including on their neighbors and even family members who dare express dislike for the rulers. The failure to turn in so-called “traitors” could result in threats, prison terms, torture and/or death. People quickly learn to censor themselves when they see what the consequences speaking openly will be. Integrity must be crushed at all costs.
Of course, socialist leaders themselves may be hypocrites by secretly accumulating millions of dollars in wealth, often through drug dealing, theft or running quasi-capitalist businesses on the side. George Orwell’s Animal Farm illustrates hypocrisy, but this book is not really a critique of socialism at all. Hypocrisy is not socialism’s main failing. The Pigs who take more than their fair share of the common food are only condemned because they take too much. By implication, things would have been fine if they all had shared equally. The collectivist morality by which everyone must selflessly share, rather than being in charge of their own farms and trading freely with others, is never questioned.
What about socialist health care? We know that in Venezuela the whole system has collapsed because there is not enough money to fund it. The few medical resources that are available are heavily supported by donors from outside the country. (I have been unable to find good data on Cuba because for political reasons the government manipulates the data; further, party members get much better care than the masses).
But isn’t Cuba praiseworthy for training medical professionals? No. The main purpose of training professional is to send them to other countries as indentured servants—with the government taking most of the salaries.
So, if creating wealth for all, political freedom, quality health care, and education that promote thinking are not what socialism is fundamentally about, what is the motive behind it? It is not just power for power’s sake because lots of dictators or various political persuasions seek that. The deepest motive is negative: it is to destroy capitalism, which means to destroy the process of wealth creation as such. Their core agenda is to prevent anyone (except selected socialist rulers) from earning more money than anyone else even at the cost of keeping everyone at the near subsistence level. Socialism is a doctrine based at root not on love for the poor but hatred for the rich; rich means not just billionaires but anyone who actually makes money. What is the evidence that destroying capitalism is the number one priority? The giveaway is that Socialists are indifferent to the poverty they create; they are fine with everyone being equally poor so long as capitalism is wiped out. The duty of each citizen is to obey, to sacrifice his own hopes, goals, and plans for the sake of the collective—to be selfless, to give up wanting anything for himself except what the state permits.
At the deepest level socialism entails the destruction of the human soul- which means the destruction of the mind, of rights, of values, of hope, of freedom- the turning of helpless victims into frightened, selfless beggars hoping for a crust of bread. This is the real meaning and motive of socialist “idealism.”
Socialists claim they are for “social justice.” But what does that mean? This term has many meanings. Racial prejudice, of course, is abhorrent. In some cases, governments may actually foster it. Everyone should be equal before the law. Culturally, the antidote to prejudice is individualism, treating each person according to their moral virtues and their actions rather than skin color or the like.
Economically social justice for the left means that no one should do better than anyone else. Some people may work harder than others, but they should not get to benefit. Everything goes in the collective pot which means everyone gets what someone else earns. Economically this is social injustice. Compare this to capitalism in the context of a free society where everyone gets what they earn through voluntary trade. This is real justice. Socialists have totally twisted the concept of justice into its opposite: getting what you did not earn is justice; getting what you earned is social injustice.
It is not an accident that socialism creates mass poverty and that capitalism is the only system that creates wealth above the subsistence level. People can’t and won’t produce unless there is the freedom to think, freedom to make choices, and freedom to gain and keep what they earned.
Given that capitalism is the productive system, what about the moral issue? Is it morally praiseworthy over and above being just to the producers? (I am assuming that the money made is not stolen.) The non- socialist leftists who allow some capitalism basically view capitalists as a necessary evil, or if not evil something to be bound in chains of regulations and tolerated as a means of creating jobs and providing tax money. But the capitalist is not considered morally praiseworthy unless the capitalist donates large sums to charitable causes.
But self-interest, if the rights of others are respected, is moral. Each person has a right to their own life which means to choose their own values, to trade voluntarily with others, and to earn money (which includes property). Wealth creators make possible the goods and services which foster life and well being.
Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel, Atlas Shrugged, which glorifies producers and shows what happens when they go on strike, includes the following passage:
I have called out on strike the kind of martyrs who had never deserted you before. I have given them the weapon they had lacked: the knowledge of their own moral value. I have taught them that the world is ours, whenever we choose to claim it, by virtue and grace of the fact that ours is the Morality of Life. They, the great victims who had produced all the wonders of humanity’s brief summer, they, the industrialists, the conquerors of matter, had not discovered the nature of their right. They had known that theirs was the power. I taught them that theirs was the glory. (1957 Random House, hardback edition, p. 1051).