Commentary

The Fallen Ambition of Socialism

As we have seen throughout history, there is something inherently within us that longs for perfection. Even in recognizing its impossibility, it is easy to believe that relationships, careers, and even governments can fulfill this innate desire. A glimmer of Heaven’s perfection is visible, blinding man with the idea that it is feasible to attain it here on earth. However, no society has ever achieved such an ambition—certainly not in terms of its government. For as long as we continue to be sinful beings, perfection is simply impossible. 

This is especially apparent in our political system. Many times, new leaders within broken government systems will convince others that life will be better and fairer under their rule…and for a time, it might be. Nonetheless, as we have seen countless times, corruption always finds a way into a system and oppression casts a heavy shadow over once-promising ideals.. The eventual consequence of this corruption is unlimited power––a breeding ground for further corruption. Because of this pattern, once-thriving societies are often poisoned from within, resulting in deterioration. When focusing on socialist policies in particular, it is important to note that often the countries most desperate for change elect leaders with the most radical ideas. Furthermore, it is those on the margins—the underprivileged masses who have been mistreated by poor economic systems—who often choose to place their hope in these systems, believing that a “fairer” world is just within their reach. Weary of their former government, these citizens are typically either desperate for a change or fundamentally believe in the core tenets of socialism: that equality is possible and man is essentially good.

We have seen the story time and time again. A struggling society endures suffering and inequality until a hero emerges, promising the people that if he is handed power, prosperity will abound. In fact, this new system promises a utopia where everyone is equal and no one is left to fend for themselves. Instead of private ownership––which inevitably creates an upper and lower class––production and distribution are owned by society. Every person receives their fair share. At first glance, the moral tenets of socialism seem like the better option. 

Presumably, a world of order and economic fairness under socialism benefits the individual more than capitalism ever could. Jesus tells us, after all, that if we are to live together, we must share what we have and help one another.1 The ideology of socialism seems only fitting to the Christian agenda—that is, until one takes a closer look. The old adage of “history repeats itself” rings true—unfortunately, these political revolutions rarely have the happy ending their supporters envision.

Take the Russian Revolution of 1917, for example, where Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family were shot and killed by Bolshevik soldiers under Vladimir Lenin. Tired of the Tsar’s unfair treatment of the lower class, the Reds (those who supported the Bolshevik movement) were eager for a change. Lenin promised a more equal society, implementing strong socialist policies. Under his leadership, there was no separation of powers or any kind of independent parliament. He promised his people that they had nothing to fear—especially not from the man who had saved them from the Tsar’s cruelty and economic failures. 

However, corruption quickly took root in sham elections where all officials were appointed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Under the assumption that corruption will always find its way into governments, in the case of the Bolsheviks, it was found through stealing, bribing, and abuse of gained political status by the USSR. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that the very class of people whom Lenin and his officials promised to support were now suffering more than ever. In fact, the peasants who believed Lenin would save them from their poverty instead endured endless cruelty at the hands of the Bolsheviks, while those who dared to challenge his authority were tossed into jails and concentration camps. This GULAG system placed nearly half a million in camps by 1933. Three years later, the number was up to one million.2 Soon after seizing power, Lenin became intent on taking wealth from those in the upper class—mainly the bourgeoisie—who had benefited under the Tsar. What followed was an economic downfall and a mass genocide ordered by Lenin’s successor: Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s “Great Purge” resulted in the brutal murders of over one million of his own people, though many estimates place this number much higher. Through these tragic events, we see how an ideology focused on equality and hope was corrupted by those in power who wanted absolute control. As alluded to earlier, it can then be argued that socialism in its fullness can only succeed as an abstract, utopian concept, and that its true impact is far more bloody and painful than the regime it is attempting to overthrow.

Despite the failure of the USSR under socialism, those who believe in its facets argue that the leaders’ corruption was solely to blame for its failure. Proponents of socialism argue that if it is “done the right way,” it is a far more superior system to capitalism. Here we again see the concept put forth by supporters—that people are essentially good. The argument follows that all socialism truly needs to succeed is an honest leader backed by officials with uncompromising morals. However, here the idea of how power breeds corruption comes back into play. Under socialism, citizens do not have economic or political independence within their country. There is no one to keep the government in check—no one to ensure that its primary role is to serve the people. In fact, Stalin once said: “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how”.3 Stalin’s words expose the harsh reality of a system susceptible to corruption. When a government is entirely in control of the political system, it will most likely corrupt that system to stay in power. As we have seen with the USSR, unlimited power breeds unlimited corruption.

Another common argument for socialism points to the many socialist countries today (particularly in Europe) where there have been no mass genocides or obvious, debilitating corruption. However, when one actually looks closer at the kind of “socialism” these countries have implemented, it is often more akin to a system of free markets with a highly developed welfare state. For example, a country like Sweden often finds itself teetering somewhere between capitalism and socialism, its government wary of both. In 1970, Sweden was the fourth-richest out of thirty-seven countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but is now the 14th richest after adopting several socialist policies. One must ask: what caused the drop? For those who argue against socialism, the lack of personal ambition and competition is responsible for the newfound mediocrity of this country and many of its neighbors. After all, humans have thrived in competition since the dawn of creation. Competition is a means to survival which often results in a sense of pride and further motivation—an emphasis on the fact that if one works hard for something, they can eventually achieve it. In contrast, socialism as a concept strips away man’s right to self-improvement—and often the dignity that comes with it. In a system that by definition does not encourage the fostering of market-based competition, there will be far fewer scientific discoveries and valuable works of art. Why would there be when there is no need to prove oneself? Therefore, the results of socialism often include a widespread epidemic of laziness and depression—an indifference to one’s own personal success as well as the success of others. As Winston Churchill once wrote, “the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings, the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries”.4 

Another relevant example of socialism’s detrimental nature can be found in Venezuela’s recent humanitarian and financial crisis. Once the wealthiest country in South America, Venezuela became the largest petroleum exporter in the 1920s and soon rivaled the United States in oil production. Such success resulted in an economic boom in the country, furthering the gap between the rich and the poor for decades. However, the years that followed resulted in a tremendous amount of financial insecurity and recessions due to falling oil prices. Venezuela’s first socialist president, Hugo Chávez, soon emerged as a beacon of hope, despite only recently being released from prison. Chávez promised that he would increase Venezuela’s prosperity through an equal distribution of wealth and a social welfare system. What was not emphasized by Chávez was the reality that always follows such a promise. Soon after getting elected, he implemented multiple socialistic policies affecting the agricultural sector. Chávez promised his people that their implementation would reduce poverty, and the gap between rich landowners and poor workers would be equalized. However, during this time food production fell 75%, despite Venezuela’s population increasing over 30%.5 

Food shortages and a horrific economic crisis soon followed. As a result, the government began overspending. They later responded to their newfound economic problems by printing more money, though doing so quickly led to inflation, in turn leading to more shortages. The country’s invaluable farmers became desperate, unable to support themselves while selling their products for less than it cost them to grow. The chaos that followed is often not covered by the mainstream media; it does not fit within the ideal of socialism we so often hear about. Those who promote socialism emphasize a caring government with equal rights for all. Rampant starvation and an exponential increase in crime is hardly the reality that many idealists expect. Tragically, this was the case for Venezuela, as a rewritten constitution in 1999 paved the way for socialist policies which transformed the country into a nearly unrecognizable place. Despite Chavez’ claims that socialist policies would heal the economic disparity between the upper and lower classes, in reality, the issue only worsened. Yet, by 1998, more than half of Venezuela’s population was below the poverty line.6 Over twenty years later, the once proud country has lost all of its economic prestige and is now one of the most dangerous places in South America. Despite Chávez’s claims that socialist policies would heal the economic disparity between the upper and lower classes, in reality, the issue only grew worse. In Venezuela, the poor have become poorer under socialism—their reality a far cry from the promise Chávez made to those suffering under the prior system.

Many people despise capitalism as an economic concept because they claim it breeds greed and contempt for the poor. In the past, capitalism has been used for these purposes, and yet it has rarely, if ever, been the root cause of chaos and genocide—of extremely high crime rates and deep-rooted government corruption. That said, in theory, socialism is not an evil concept. Its facets do indeed seek to support the individual by creating an even playing field. In reality, however, human beings are naturally flawed and desperate for power. We have heard it said that socialism is the ruling governmental system in Heaven. While this could be true, throughout history socialism has never succeeded on earth in regards to a large group of people. As Ronald Reagan said, “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it, and Hell where they already have it.”7

Therefore, it is the never-ending search for perfection on earth that elevates socialism as an influence political ideology. Time and time again, many choose to believe that socialism will work if given the right leaders, consistently ignoring why it fails each time. However, as long as we are on this earth, competition and personal ambition will always be the facets of a healthy society. This is not to say that we should abandon care for those who are underprivileged. As Christians, this should be our top priority. It is instead merely to explain that the desire for a totally equal society often only results in bloodshed and oppression in the end. If we truly care about each person’s quality of life, we will learn from the past with empathy and understanding. We will learn, and we will choose a better, more peaceful world. We will do what we can to bring Heaven to earth, while understanding that they are not one in the same. As Christians, we understand there is no perfect political system on earth— and that there never was supposed to be one in the fist place. It is heaven’s reign that we look forward to with hope, choosing wisely, while we wait, a world of order.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.

Categories: Commentary

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