During recent election cycles, “socialism” got quite a workout, without much detail about what it actually represents. For that knowledge, one of the best sources is Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the Twentieth Century by the late Sidney Hook, born in 1902, before any socialist country existed.
“Socialism was a feeling of moral protest against remediable evils that surrounded us,” Hook writes, but there was more to it. “Our socialism was an ersatz religion in that we lived in its light, were buoyed up by its promise, and prepared to make sacrifices for it.” The great philosopher was also candid about the way it worked.
“Socialist faith contrasted the realities of the capitalist system with the ideals of a vaguely defined socialism, since at the time no Socialist system existed anywhere.” Once the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established, Hook would conduct a proper comparison of the realities of capitalism with the realities of socialism, such as terror and violence, “the weapon of those who scorned argument and evidence.”
Lenin was the first to refer to those who did not support the Soviet regime as “vermin,” but like Stalin professed to believe that the victims of the “Red Terror” were guilty of something, however far-fetched. As Hook recalled, “they would never have admitted to the slaughter of the innocent but their apologists admitted it and justified it!” One of those apologists was dramatist Bertolt Brecht, author of The Threepenny Opera and other works.
Of the victims of Soviet terror, numbering in the millions, Brecht said, “the more innocent they are, the more they deserved to be shot.” Hook said nothing, escorted Brecht out the door, and never saw him again.
Soviet socialism was supposedly on the side of the workers, but as Hook discovered, “the workers could be exploited in a collectivist economy as well as in a free market economy.”
Soviet socialism professed to be “scientific,” but as Hook learned, there are no “national truths” in science, no “German science,” and no “Jewish science.”
In similar style, there are no “class truths” or “party truths” in science; no “proletarian science” and no such thing as “bourgeois physics” and so forth. As the philosopher explains, “this is what happens when one is in the grip of a monastic dogma,” a dogma “sustained by systematic delusion.”
Later in life, Hook came clean.
“I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature. To this day, this error and its disastrous consequences are observable in the judgement and behavior of some impassioned individuals, mostly young.” Sidney Hook wrote that in the late 1980s, and it is still true to this day, with a difference.
Socialism was never great and its colossal failures and deadly repressions have been carefully documented. Even so, current “progressives” judge socialist regimes by their rhetoric and nations such as the United States on their records. This is empowered by willful ignorance and dogma. The ersatz religion of socialism is best understood as a grab-bag of superstitions.
Consider the notion that when people gain election to office or get a government job, they automatically lose all human vices. For all but the willfully blind, they don’t. It is also pure superstition that politicians and bureaucrats never use their power against political dissenters or to the detriment of the people in general. As a matter of fact, ruling class types do it all the time.
According to popular belief, politicians and bureaucrats have the ability to plan an entire economy for the benefit of all, with no downside. F.A. Hayek refuted that superstition in The Road to Serfdom, fully endorsed by John Maynard Keynes. Ruling-class types show little familiarity with Hayek, and little evidence that they read much of anything beyond the scripts penned by their handlers.
The Left contends that governments can keep printing money and continue lavish spending forever, with no downside to future generations. That is one of the most active superstitions on the current scene, along with the notion that expertise in one academic discipline automatically transfers to economics and political wisdom. For a refutation of that superstition, see Albert Einstein’s letters to Sidney Hook in Out of Step, a book rich in revelations.
For example, the Communist Party USA first promoted the idea that blacks were not real Americans and belonged in a separate “black belt” in the south. Today few recall this prescription for apartheid in America.
Hook also recalls leftist academic Herbert Marcuse, who believed that the freest societies that had ever existed, the United States in particular, were really the most repressive. Marcuse said he would prefer that American blacks not have the right to vote rather than have it and make “wrong use of their freedom.”
Like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, Sidney Hook has been there before and knows all about it. Like Aaron Neville, the great philosopher is just telling it like it is. Once a simple wish list, socialism signals only failure, repression and death on a massive scale.
The term should be replaced by “superstitionism,” because that is what it is. Like King Arthur’s fanciful monarchy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, superstition is no basis for a system of government.