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16. A Hundred Years of Marxian Socialism
In this year 1967, in which the University of Chicago celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary, the present-day world’s most powerful political movement, Marxism, commemorates the two most important dates of its history. A hundred years ago the literary foundation of Marxism was laid by the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital, the only volume published by Marx himself. And fifty years later, in 1917, the first Marxian government was established in the vast expanses up to that time subject to the rule of the Tsars of Russia. It seems appropriate to choose these jubilees for an appreciation of the role Marxism played and still plays in the evolution of the modern world.
Karl Marx was in his lifetime known only to small groups of uninfluential people. In the circles of revolutionary agitators in which he moved he had more enemies than friends. When he died in 1883, many newspapers did not find it necessary to report the fact.
All the economic and sociological doctrines of Marx and all his interpretations of history have been conclusively disproved. The great overwhelming success of Marxism, the adoption of its programs by Russia and the other Slavonic countries of the European East as well as by China, constitutes in itself a spectacular refutation of the fundamental tenets of essential Marxian theories. For according to these teachings one had to expect either that all countries will at the same time turn communist or that the industrially most advanced nations of Western Europe and North America will take the lead.
All this and much more has to be said to demonstrate the futility of all the allegedly scientific achievements of Marx. But when all this is said, there remains the fact that the ideas of this penniless writer, whose name even was unknown to most of his contemporary statesmen and politicians, influenced in the last seventy or eighty years the course or world affairs more than any other philosophy. Whatever one may think about Marx, one must not belittle the role he plays in our world. He is one of the great political leaders, perhaps the most influential political leader the world has ever known.
The history of literature preserves the names and sometimes also the writings of powerless dreamers who took pleasure in contriving plans for an earthly paradise. The common characteristic of all these schemes was that the inmates of the proposed utopia were destined to be unconditionally subject to the orders first of its founder and later of his successors. What the
Utopias envisioned were in fact all-embracing prisons. Perhaps one can excuse some of their authors as psychopaths.
The critical spirit that the Enlightenment generated killed the prestige of all Utopian projects and thereby also of the communist idea. The historical role of Karl Marx was that he taught an epistemology in the light of which the discredited idea could be resurrected and made seemingly safe against any attempt at refutation. This Marxian theory consists of three dogmas:
(1) As long as there is no socialism, mankind is divided into social classes the vital interests of which are irremediably opposed to one another.
(2) A man’s thinking is necessarily always determined by his class affiliation. His thoughts mirror the special interests of his class, incurably antagonistic to the interests of the members of all other classes.1
(3) The conflict of the class interests results in the pitiless class-struggle that unavoidably leads to the victory of the most numerous and most wronged class, the proletariat. Then the everlasting age of socialism dawns.
As this doctrine sees it, there cannot be any peaceful discussion concerning any serious problems between people belonging to different classes. They can never come to an agreement. For the result of their thinking will always be “ideological,” i.e., determined by the special interests of their own class. The war between the classes is permanent. It will come to an end only by the radical “liquidation” of all “exploiting classes” and their “sycophants,” the wretched peoples who betray their class comrades.
There had been, long before Marx, doctrines teaching the total war leading to the radical extinction or enslavement of the defeated. There was the ominous aphorism, repeated again and again, that no man can profit but by the loss of others. It was precisely the great achievements of the classical liberal doctrine to have demonstrated by an irrefutable chain of reasoning the solidarity of the rightly understood interests of all individuals and classes of individuals, whatever mark may have been applied to characterize class membership.
But all these endeavors to provide a rational basis for peaceful human cooperation within the frame of society appear vain in the light of the Marxian epistemology. There is, as long as the “classless” society has not been established by the radical liquidation of the exploiting classes, no such thing as a doctrine the truth of which can and must be acknowledged by all reasonable people. There are only class ideologies, i.e., doctrines adequate to the special interests of the thinker’s class that are implacably opposed to the interests of all other classes and their members. There cannot be any question of dealing with the pros and cons of any ideology that originated from a member of an exploiting class. All that has to be done to destroy it is to reveal the class affiliation of its author.
The essence of all that Marx said is: The trend of historical evolution leads irresistibly to the establishment of an ideal, in every regard perfect state of affairs called socialism. Those denying the truth of this statement are badly prejudiced and must be pitilessly “liquidated.” Their cause is doomed, as in virtue of the ineluctable laws of cosmic becoming the future belongs to socialism.
The political success of the Marxian propaganda revived the aspirations of other militant groups. There are deadly foes of socialism who claim for their race or for their linguistic group hegemony on the surface of our planet in the same way in which Marx claims it for the proletarian class.
In the liberal age of the nineteenth century the most consistent liberal group, the British Manchester School, expected that the general adoption of free trade and laissez-faire will result in perpetual peace. In our age there is no longer any question of such an “abolition of war.” There are on the one hand people who abhor foreign wars and preach revolution and civil war, and there are on the other hand people who want peace within their own nation or race and pitiless total war against all foreigners.
The philosophy of the Enlightenment considered as its most precious achievement the principle of toleration, the liberty to uphold one’s opinions in religious and philosophical matters without being harassed by the government. It was no less anxious to give to everybody the right to choose the way by which he planned to integrate himself into the system of social cooperation. The great ideal of the age of classical liberalism was liberty, the freedom to make the plans for one’s own life. Today people are longing and fighting for the substitution of “planning” for the market economy. Planning, as they employ the term, means: plans made by others will prescribe to me what I am to do and how to do it. All my life I will live like the boy in the boarding school, like the soldier in the army, like the prisoner in his cell. I will see, hear, read and learn what my superiors will consider as fit for me. I will be a cog in a vast machine the operation of which is directed by the authorities. There is only one philosophy, one ideology, one quasi-religion that people are free to profess and to propagate. Any deviation from the tenets of this dogmatism is a death-deserving crime.
Thus Marxism is the most radical and unconditional rejection of all the ideals of freedom and liberty. It does not acknowledge any dissenting opinion’s right to existence. In its endeavors to extirpate all traces of any view it deems heretical, it is in no way inferior to any persecutors, inquisitors and witch-hunters of the darkest ages. But it parades as the only legitimate continuation of all the past struggles for freedom.
That Marxism could, in spite of all its inherent deficiencies, attain the powerful position it holds in the present-day world is due to the fact that statesmen, politicians and the immense majority of our intellectuals and businessmen are entirely ignorant of the most blatant defects of the Marxian reasoning. Let us look at the central thesis of Marxism, at the doctrine of the inevitability of the great social revolution that will transform capitalism into the everlasting bliss of socialism.
The coming of this revolution, says Marx, it unavoidable because the “immanent laws of capitalistic production” must make “the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation” of the working-class grow to such a degree that the proletarians are finally driven into rebellion, expropriate their oppressors, and establish the socialist system that will last forever. Thus the progressing impoverishment of the working masses, that is allegedly inherent in the capitalistic mode of production, leads to the great social catastrophe out of which the final radical revolution and thereby the age of everlasting bliss are born.
Now let us first compare Marx’s unconditional forecast with the facts of these one hundred years that have passed. Nobody will deny that in all capitalistic countries the average standard of living of the earners of wages and salaries has improved to an unprecedented and unexpected degree. These people enjoy amenities of which the richest princes and lords of ages gone by could not even dream.
Marx and all the others who developed similar doctrines entirely failed to realize that the characteristic feature of capitalism is that it is mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses. In the precapitalistic ages the processing trades worked only for supplying the well-to-do. The innovation that capitalism brought consisted in the establishment of shops producing for the many. Thus, e.g., the textile industries and the garment industries where not substitutes for activities of artisans who had previously done spinning, weaving and tailoring for the common man. Such a class of businessmen selling to the “lower strata” of the population did not exist in precapitalistic ages. The activities the textile and the garment industries displaced were those of the female members of the family. In the early stages of capitalism factories turning out consumers’ goods worked almost exclusively for the poorer strata of the population. And also today only a fraction of all the products of industry is consumed by those in the upper income brackets. The much greater part is consumed by the same people who are working in the factories, shops and offices.
This alleged law of the inevitably progressing pauperization of the working class, which has been spectacularly disproved by history, was for Marx and is still for his followers one of the two fundamental laws of economics and of historical evolution. Its companion law was, long before Marx adopted it, to the economists known as the “iron law of wages,” a term that Marx for purely personal reasons disliked although all his economic doctrines as expounded in the Communist Manifesto and in Das Kapital are based upon this iron law. And now there are two rather important things to say about this alleged iron law: first that it had been rejected as nonsensical and contrary to fact by all reasonable men already before Marx published his Kapital book, and, secondly that it is logically incompatible with the other fundamental law of Marxism, the law of the progressive pauperization of the wage-earning masses.
This alleged iron law of wages declares that wages can never rise above the minimum requisite to keep the laborer in bare existence as a laborer. Any increase in wages above this height will lead to an increase in population, and then the competition of increased numbers for employment will force wages down again to the minimum. We do not have to deal with the inherent fallacy of this pseudo-law. But if one adopts its reasoning in order to demonstrate that in the long run no rise in the average wage rate above the minimum is possible, one must also imply that no fall in the average rate can occur. The progressive impoverishment of the working masses which those famous observations at the end of the twenty-fourth chapter of Das Kapital describe cannot happen in the capitalistic system as depicted and analyzed by Marx in the preceding chapters of this book. The main thesis of Marx’s great historical prognostication, the progressive impoverishment of the wage-earning masses, contradicts the main thesis of Marx’s economic doctrine, the iron law of wages. Besides, as has been said already, it has been spectacularly refuted by the facts.
To appreciate correctly the meaning and the historical effects of the Marxian philosophy we must confront it with the economic teachings prevalent in the middle of the nineteenth century. By and large economists at that time agreed in the statement that the improvement of the material well-being of all strata of the population depends on the accumulation of capital. Not only the capitalists but also all other people gain by the increase of the her-head quota of capital available. There are no means by which the wages of all those eager to sell their labor can be raised other than by accelerating the increase of capital as compared with population.
Daily experience showed to all not hopelessly prejudiced men that all the attempts to deny this fundamental truth were vain. The essential fact about the capitalistic industries, the flourishing of which excited the envy of the anticapitalistic authors, is and was that the main consumers of their products are the same people who are toiling in their production. Only a few years after the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital Jevons, Menger and Walras developed the marginal utility approach to economic problems that clearly demonstrated the stake the laborers have in the increase of capital available. Today nobody dares to deny that what is most badly needed for any improvement of people’s material well-being is a richer supply of capital.
The precapitalistic method of fighting poverty was charity. Those who had were asked or forced to give to those who had less. The capitalistic method is to produce more and cheaper; its application requires the accumulation of larger quantities of capital through saving. Charity cannot improve the average standard of living. Saving and capital accumulation do.
Socialism cannot alter these basic ontological facts. Also in a socialist or communist commonwealth any improvement of the average standard of living is conditioned by a previous accumulation of additional capital. The only successful “war against poverty” consists in removing impediments that retard saving and in abolishing conditions making for capital decumulation.
We human beings, subject to all the frailties and errors of human existence, cannot know how our earthly affairs may look when viewed by a superhuman intellect. But we can observe the fact that all noncapitalistic peoples implicitly acknowledge the superiority of our capitalistic methods in eagerly clamoring for their products.
When the Bolsheviks took over the government of Russia, they and all their friends in other countries where fully convinced that their noisily propagandized five-year plan would transform Russia into an earthly paradise. The world has now the experience of half a century of communist management in the countries that offer in Europe and in northwestern Asia the most propitious conditions for agricultural production and are also extremely rich in mineral and other natural resources. The results achieved by the socialist methods of management were simply catastrophic. There is no need to stress the fact, not denied by any sane observer, that the capitalistic methods of production are by far superior to those advocated by the communist or socialist parties.
The superiority of the capitalistic system of production is due to the fact that it remunerates everybody according to his contribution to the satisfaction of his fellow men. It thus stimulates everybody, within the system of the social division of labor, to exert himself to the utmost. The better a man serves others, the better for him. In the capitalistic market economy the consumers are supreme. In his capacity as a producer of commodities and services everybody is forced to serve the consumers.
The wage earner is remunerated according to the price the consumer is prepared to pay for his contribution to the qualities of the product. If the employer were to pay more to the worker, he would suffer losses in selling his wares. If he were to pay less, he would gain a surplus and this fact would attract new competitors whose endeavors to snatch away the workers would raise wage rates back to the break-even point.
It does not matter how people judge this system of remuneration from a more or less biassed point of view. One may call unfair the fact that an opera singer or a boxing champion earns many times more than a stevedore or a charwoman. But then we must put the blame upon nature for not having endowed more people with the qualities required for singing or boxing.
Production of goods ready for consumption requires the use of capital goods, that is, of tools and of half-finished material. Capital comes into existence by saving, i.e., the temporary abstention from consumption. The share that goes to the owners of the capital goods does not deprive either the workers or the consumers. It is the price the capitalists receive for the postponement of consumption.
There is no such thing as production in general. The main problem of production is the plan: what to produce, in what quantity and quality, how and where. Production is necessarily always production for the satisfaction of future needs. As future conditions are uncertain, production is always speculative. It may result either in a surplus or in a deficit in the means of the entrepreneur.
In the market economy everybody is free to choose the way in which he plans to serve his fellow men. There is—and this distinguishes the capitalistic system from the status society of the past and from the totalitarian despotism of the contemporary dictatorial regimes—no compulsion forcing the individual to adopt a definite way of life and assigning to him a definite place in the frame of society. The sovereign consumers in their never relaxing greed for more goods are always anxious to entrust the entrepreneurial functions to those best fitted for the conduct of business affairs. And the entrepreneurs are always in search for the best managerial and technological help. Under capitalism everybody has the chance to attain a position in which he can best serve the consumers, i.e., his fellow men. The supremacy of the consumers is not contested by any capitalistic institution. Every piece of capital goods must be invested in the lines in which it contributes to the satisfaction of the most urgent of the not yet fully satisfied wants of the public.
The unprecedented success of capitalism is due to the fact that in its sphere the long-run interests of the individual always coincide with those of other individuals. Thus the individual in serving his own concerns serves also or, at least, does not prejudice the concerns of other people. The incompetency of the socialist society manifests itself in the fact that under prudent management the individual’s interests do not agree with those of other individuals.
In the market economy the height of the individual worker’s compensation is determined by the value his work adds to the merchandise. The better a man works, the higher is his pay. He is personally interested in doing a good job.
But under socialism the individual has no personal incentive to exert his strength fully. If he works more fervently, all the toil and trouble of his overexertion inconvenience him and him alone; but at best he will enjoy an infinitesimal fraction only of the additional product that his overexertion has brought about. In the socialist system, in which all the fruits of the various individuals’ labor are appropriated by the supreme office of production management and then distributed among the comrades without any regard for the worth of their individual contribution, there is no inducement for an individual to exert his strength. Everyday experience proves again and again the correctness of this statement. And nobody realizes its truth better than all those men who are directing the affairs of communist Russia.
The individual citizen in the capitalistic countries knows that he will fare the better, the more and the better he is able to contribute to the well-being of his fellow citizens. In working for the satisfaction of others, he always works for his own benefit. This is valid for all members of the capitalistic society, for the capitalists and for the entrepreneurs no less than for the wage earners.
A characteristic mark of all anticapitalistic ideas is their failure to comprehend the role capitalistic saving and its result, the accumulation of capital, play in the human endeavors to survive. Animals and savages live from hand to mouth. What characterizes man is that he accumulates goods that make it possible for him to embark upon more time consuming roundabout methods of providing for his needs. All the cultural and spiritual eminence of man is conditioned by the accumulation of capital. Saving in order to make these roundabout methods of production possible is the fundamental and only method to improve the physiological, intellectual and moral status of mankind. All that distinguishes the material conditions of this country from those of the countries one calls poor, backward, underdeveloped, or barbarian is due to the higher per-head quota of capital accumulated and employed—invested—in production processes.
Nature has endowed many parts of the earth’s surface much better than the territories originally inhabited by the white men who have developed the modern capitalistic methods of production. All the achievements of Western civilization were made possible by the establishment of moral and legal institutions that protected the individuals’ savings and their investment for productive purposes against the rapacity of the rulers. While in the East private property was practically at the mercy of the officeholders, the West’s legal systems considered it the basic principle of society’s organization.
The market economy and the capitalistic system have been described as a consumers’ democracy in which every penny gives a right to vote.2 Such metaphorical descriptions are always optional. But if we accept the metaphor in this case, we must not forget to point out some very momentous differences between the two systems of what is called democracy.
First: In the political democracy of representative government one votes for men. The voter renounces virtually his prerogative in favor of the elected officeholder. In the market democracy the objective of the voting process is not a man, but a man’s achievements, the products of his exertion. The voter does not express blind confidence in the future comportment of one of the candidates. He approves or disapproves of an already accomplished service.
Secondly: The average voter is as a rule not qualified to form a pertinent judgment about the problems of governmental policies. But the average housewife is by and large capable of distinguishing between what is good and wholesome for her family and what is not.
Political democracy and economic democracy condition one another. A democratic constitution is the political corollary either of a primitive community of the owners of family farms or of a market economy. A socialist system implies unlimited dictatorial powers of the chief. What created representative government in the countries of Western civilization was the gradual substitution of capitalism for the disintegrating feudal system. What inaugurated a new age of bloody dictatorship was the step by step progress of government interference with business.
The socialist system not only abolishes the democracy of the market. It is no less incompatible with political democracy. Most people are misled in this regard by the inappropriate terminology of present-day political language, the spurious distinction between left-wing parties and right-wing parties. In the European parliaments of the early nineteenth century the parties fighting absolutism and asking for more parliamentarianism were traditionally seated to the left of the chairman, and their opponents, the stooges of absolutism, at his right. Today in this country one calls the advocates of constitutional and economic freedom “rightists” and the supporters of socialist or communist dictatorship “leftists.” A really Babylonic confusion of tongues!
Many more things are to be said about the achievements of the capitalistic system and the failure of all socialist and half-socialist experiments. And there is first of all need to refer to the economists’ fundamental critique of socialism, viz., the fact that a socialist system would not be able to establish any kind of economic calculation and would therefore lack any method of distinguishing between what is more and what is less fit to satisfy human wants. A world-embracing socialist system would therefore not merit the name of an economic system. It would rather be a groping about in the dark, not being able to distinguish what is, from its own point of view, i.e., from the point of view of the socialist managers and the people for whom they have to provide, more or less desirable. Today this inability to calculate does not yet trouble the dictators of the communist nations. They can use and do use for this purpose the prices established on the markets of the capitalistic nations.
The greatness and the incomparable efficiency of the market economy are due to the fact that all economic actions can be calculated. This means: it is possible to find out what the costs of every action are, what we have to renounce in order to get the thing the costs of which we are trying to determine in terms of money. There are also many actions that cost more than merely things that have a price on the market. But these things are objects the value of which is directly determined by those enjoying it. If a municipality considers a project that—apart from monetary costs—requires the demolition of a historical landmark, it can fully take into account its emotional significance without assigning to it a definite monetary appreciation.
Economic calculation is the vital power that animates all manifestations of human action and cooperation in matters commonly called economic. It is the triumph of the human mind, the intellectual instrument that has enabled man to bring about all that elevates his life above that of the brutes.
As present to our mind, the history of economic activities and technological achievements records only radical changes and innovations, turning points of mankind’s intellectual and chrematistic evolution. It refers, e.g., to the adoption of steam power and deals with the conditions of what is called the age of steam power. In resorting to such a simplification one easily forgets that the concept “steam power” encompasses a great variety of methods employed for the utilization of steam. The oldest and most primitive specimens of a steam engine underwent a long series of transformations and improvements that adjusted the device for various uses. In the technology of the capitalistic economy there is nothing permanent or stable but a continuous tendency to adapt production methods daily anew to the best possible and cheapest satisfaction of the wants of the consumers. A thousand or several thousand changes—most slight ones only, some, of course, of momentous consequences—transformed the automobile as it was constructed in the last decade of the nineteenth century into what is called an automobile today. What makes this inherent disposition toward improvement mentally possible is the system of bookkeeping by double entry. It enables the entrepreneur to calculate the costs of every item of his products and thus to discover the most appropriate methods for the conduct of his operations. It is the mental device that provides the opportunity to compare degrees in the usefulness of various methods of production. It makes it possible to eliminate technological waste of definite amounts of labor or of material, i.e., their employment for a production that withholds specific labor or material from an employment in which it would satisfy consumers’ demand in a more satisfactory way.
The economic history of the last two or three centuries provides ample illustration for the beneficial effect of this capitalistic method. The average standard of living of the masses of Western and Central Europe was, seen from our present-day point-of-view, shockingly bad. What brought about a radical change was not authoritarian decrees, but the ideas and the deeds of enterprising men whose energy and diligence were challenged by the profit motive. It was such men that in a process that fortunately is still going on transformed the almost completely autarkic economies of their nations into predominantly industrial systems and the isolation of various economic regions into the world market. The present standard of living of these countries—a very high one when compared with that of all other countries but that of the United States—is entirely due to the export of manufactured goods, most of which are produced out of imported raw materials. Economic calculation enabled all these improvements and adjusts the activities of business daily anew to the continually changing state of demand and supply of various commodities and services.
Marx was not the author of the socialist idea and he did not contribute anything to the futile attempts to demonstrate the soundness and the practicability of the plans for the establishment of a socialist commonwealth. He passionately rejected all such efforts as unscientific. For his own socialism, the prognostication of the inevitability of socialism’s coming, he claimed the epithet scientific. In his opinion this settled the issue for the contemporaries of Darwin and Maxwell.3 How could any decent fellow dare to question what science taught! In vilifying everything that existed as hopelessly contaminated by the capitalistic surrounding, Marxism acquired the aureole of representing the unspoiled excellence of pure science and the golden age to come.
Marx was opposed to all claims of nationalism and chauvinism. But among the factors that contributed to the adoption of the Marxian teachings these nationalistic sentiments played a not negligible role. Modern capitalism developed first in England. The chauvinists of Western and Central Europe had the uneasy feeling that their own peoples were only imitators of methods that the British had invented and perfected. With the spread of the capitalistic methods over all parts of the earth this kind of resentment grew more and more. The Slavonic peoples of Europe and the inhabitants of Asia and Africa are plagued by the fact that in all matters of literary, artistic, scientific, social, technological and economic affairs they are following in the wake of the advanced nations of Europe and their descendants. In condemning capitalism as the worst of all evils that befell mankind, Marxism reestablishes their moral equilibrium. In the light of the Marxian philosophy, not to be responsible for the emergence of this most unfair and harmful system is no longer seen as the proof of moral and intellectual inferiority but, on the contrary, as the test of eminence.
Under the impact of the socialist idea governments and municipalities embarked upon the nationalization and municipalization of various enterprises. Paramount in these policies was the Imperial Government of Germany led by Prince Bismarck whom the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences calls “the foremost exponent of state socialism in his day.”4 But the trend toward socialism prevailed also in all other countries. Already in the ’eighties of the nineteenth century Sidney Webb, the leader of Fabian socialism, declared that the socialist philosophy is “but the conscious and explicit assertion of principles of social organization which have been already in great part unconsciously adopted.” And he added that the economic history of the nineteenth century was “an almost continuous record of the progress of socialism.”5 A few years later an eminent British statesman, Sir William Harcourt, stated: “We are all socialists now.”6 In 1913 an American author, Elmer Robert, qualified the economic policies of the German Imperial Government as “monarchical socialism.”7
It was precisely these socialist actions of various governments and municipalities that for the first time directed general attention to the main problems of socialism, the inherent inefficiency of the public management of enterprises. Poor service and rising deficits were the characteristic features of almost all nationalized or municipalized undertakings. All people agreed that a radical reform of their conduct of affairs was peremptory. But no practical suggestions turned up.
The Germans whom the crushing defeat in the First World War had deprived of their moral and political equilibrium were in 1918 even more anxious to adopt integral socialism than were the Russians. They considered this as the best method to wreak vengeance upon the victorious capitalist nations, the United States, Great Britain and France. But there was first a great obstacle to overcome; there was the unsolved problem of funding a method that would make a satisfactory management of the socialized enterprises possible. This task the German Revolution entrusted to a committee of socialist luminaries and university professors. It was really an absurd spectacle. The revolutionary part of the social democrats, victorious after a struggle of more than half a century, fully convinced that thanks to their action mankind has reached the most momentous turning-point in its history, is forced to admit that it does not know how to put the cardinal, the only point in its program that matters into effect and expects that a committee of experts and professors will tell them what to do! And, of course, this committee whose best known members were Doctor Hilferding and Professor Schumpeter, produced a collection of volumes dealing with various subjects, but did not solve the insoluble problem for the solution of which it had been established. It did not indicate a method for a reasonable and successful conduct of business operated by other principles than those of capitalistic profit-seeking.
It is important to keep in mind these facts if one wants to understand the course history took in the last fifty years. The masses of the civilized and industrialized nations of the West were easily talked, by fanatical agitators, into accepting anticapitalistic doctrines and voting for the parties that aim at subjecting all economic activities to the orders of the authorities. In the civilized countries this side of the Iron Curtain the masses of the voters and the members of the government fully sympathize with the socialist creed, and at the educational institutions and in the press hardly any critics of the socialist ideas are tolerated. But there is the undeniable fact of the irremediable inadequacy of the socialist methods of work, to say nothing of the absolute impossibility of any kind of economic calculation in a world embracing socialist system. Public management of any undertakings and concerns unavoidably results in financial failure and poor service. The inefficiency of the bureaucratic conduct of affairs is proverbial. The very thought of an expansion of public management of industries makes even the most bigoted socialist politicians shudder.
Russia went communist in 1917 and many half-civilized nations followed in its wake because their intellectuals did not know anything that could not be learned from reading the writings of Marx and Engels. Thus, e.g., Lenin thought that he could convincingly reject all qualms about the proper functioning of the socialist conduct of business affairs by pointing out that these socialist organizations will work like the post office!8 In his eyes the “chief things necessary for the organizing of the first phase of Communist society” were “accounting and control” and these he asserted have been “simplified by capitalism to the utmost, till they have become the extraordinary simply operations of watching, recording and issuing receipts, within the reach of anybody who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.”9
Such blatant nonsense could be told to the ignorant self-styled intellectuals of Russia who prided themselves on being the vanguard of Marxism and thereby of progress and civilization. It gave comfort to the chauvinists of all backward nations who had an uneasy feeling in comparing their own country’s culture with that of the West. But it did not appeal to the industrialized nations of the West. Americans could not be fooled by the promise that the socialist system will succeed and will make everybody happy because it will take for its model the post office and will organize the whole of society as “one office and one factory with equal work and equal pay.”10
Such are today conditions in the countries of Western civilization. People are by and large enthusiastic admirers of Marxism and socialism or communism. The officeholders whom they elect seldom miss any occasion to demonstrate their anticapitalistic fanaticism by seriously disturbing the functioning of the market economy. But once the opportunity is given to them to put fully into practice their plans for all-round socialization of business, they shrink back. Nobody expects any longer that the West German Social Democrats or the British Labor Party will put into effect the fundamental principle of their socialist program. All they do is to harass the businessmen and to take pleasure in sabotaging their efforts to improve the methods of production.
What divides the nations today is not the ideological antagonism of capitalism and socialism. Also in the non-communist countries the governments and the immense majority of those called the intellectuals are more or less committed to the socialist creed. What prevents these self-styled liberals and progressivists from adopting the Lenin methods of all-round socialization is the fact that they cannot help reluctantly admitting the lamentable inadequacy of the socialist methods of economic management. They apprehend that every farther step forward on the road toward the socialization of enterprises will seriously impair the quantity and the quality of the products of every industry. Everybody knows that this will hurt first of all the workers as the main beneficiaries of the capitalistic methods of doing business are the masses of those employed in offices and workshops. Very few, of course, have the courage to refer publicly to this fact; but everybody is aware of it.
Pre-Marxian socialist authors had developed detailed plans for the organization and operation of a socialist commonwealth. It was easy for economists to demonstrate the impractability and absurdity of these designs. Marx carefully avoided dealing with this tricky problem and condemned as Utopian phantasies all attempts of earlier socialists to treat it. Socialism is bound to come as the highest stage of mankind’s evolution, he repeated again and again, and will arrange everything in the best possible way. But the crux is that every step toward the realization of the socialist ideals invariably resulted and will always result in economic failure and that the socialists are at a loss to discover any method of avoiding this outcome.
What stopped and stops the progress of the socialist policies is the fact that people have today the opportunity to compare the working of socialism with the working of capitalism. The socialists of Eastern Germany, the self-styled German Democratic Republic, spectacularly admitted the bankruptcy of the Marxian dreams when they built a wall to prevent their comrades from fleeing into the non-socialist part of Germany.
- *. [This article appears to have been written in 1967 and is previously unpublished—Ed.]
- 1. There is a flaw in this point of the doctrine, a special privilege granted to its authors, the bourgeois Marx and Engels. They belong, says the Communist Manifesto, to a group “of bourgeois ideologists who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movements as a whole.”
- 2. [Cf. Frank A. Fetter, The Principles of Economics, 2nd ed. (New York: The Century Company, 1910), p. 394—Ed.]
- 3. [James Clark Maxwell developed the theory of electromagnetic waves—Ed].
- 4. Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1930), p. 573.
- 5. Sidney Webb in Fabian Essays in Socialism, first published in 1889 (New York: Humboldt, 1891), p. 4.
- 6. Cf. G. M. Trevelyan, Shortened History of England (London: Longmans, 1942), p. 510.
- 7. Elmer Roberts, Monarchical Socialism in Germany (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1913).
- 8. V.I.Lenin, State and Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1917), pp. 43f.
- 9. Ibid., pp. 83f.
- 10. Cf. Ibid., pp. 83f.