Thursday, January 28, 2016

Socialist Delusions, Capitalist Illusions, I: What is Socialism?

Get into an argument with a socialist — any socialist — and you will sooner or later be informed that you just don’t understand, that you don’t know what socialism is, you’re ugly, and your mother dresses you funny.
"I'm not ugly . . . I'm a mirror."
       If that’s not enough, get into an argument with someone who accepts everything about socialism except the word — it doesn’t matter who — and you will sooner or later be informed that you just don’t understand, that you don’t know what socialism is, you’re ugly, and your mother dresses you funny.
Wait a minute . . . didn’t we just repeat ourselves?
Yes.  The problem with socialism and the socialists (whether or not they want to or even can admit what they are) is that socialism is the same thing under many names.  Perhaps Karl Marx said it best when he declared in The Communist Manifesto (1848) — communism being the most extreme form of socialism — “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.”
Not particularly ugly, but they dressed funny.
Instantly socialists of all stripes — especially those who claim not to be socialists — set up a howl.  Socialism isn’t like that!  Some socialism permits private ownership!  Property has changed!  You just don’t understand!  You’re ugly!  Your mother dresses you funny!
Nor is this anything new.  While researching the blog series on common sense, we came across an article in the Boston Evening Transcript of November 27, 1908, “The Fading Fabians.”  This caught our eye, for the Boston Evening Transcript was, to all intents and purposes, a “georgist” newspaper, at least up until the death of Henry George, the agrarian socialist, in 1897, and Henry George was a strong influence on the Fabian program.
Although we had been looking for something else, a word or two caught our eye, and we read the entire article.  It was chock-full of some rather fascinating statements by George Bernard Shaw.  Most interesting was the claim that the Fabians deliberately mislead people as standard operating procedure:
Shaw: No money if people weren't confused.
No doubt the Fabians have made an impression in London and in England that is not recognizable as their work.  By the very law of their being, these Opportunists are not to vaunt themselves openly — least of all to claim the exclusive leadership of the social movement of British politics at present.  At a recent meeting, quite fully reported in the official organ of the society, Mr. Bernard Shaw congratulated the Fabians on there being in most people’s minds a certain vagueness and confusion as to what the Fabians really stand for: “You get a good many subscriptions [i.e., donations] from people who would not subscribe if they were entirely clear on the subject,” he said, “and you also get a certain width of sympathy, a broad idealism which is helpful.” (“The Fading Fabians,” The Boston Evening Transcript, November 27, 1908, p. 10.)
This, however, had backfired — at least according to Shaw.  The article went on to explain,
As there are all sorts of stripes of Liberals and of Conservatives, there are of Socialists.  He [Shaw] admits that there is this danger to the Fabians in their vagueness, that such a society may be captured for purposes foreign to its ends, “just as Christianity has been captured by commercialism, so that there is nothing in the world less Christian than what is called Christianity.”
But these quips and brilliants of Shaw’s cannot conceal his real concern, showing throughout this address, over the schisms and secessions that have taken place among the Fabians.  With his characteristic candor he owns up to the loss of half a dozen sorts of Fabians — one typified by the prominent member who “left us because we did not adore Mr. W. E. Gladstone”; another who wanted the abolition of marriage in their programme; and another (the son of a clergyman) who wanted anti-clericalism made a part of the faith.  Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, it appears, once called himself a Socialist, “but he did not know what Socialism was then, and he does not know now when he says he is not a Socialist.”  (Ibid.)
Twenty years later, Shaw still insisted that Fabian socialism and distributism are the same thing, while Chesterton still insisted that they are not — “[Chesterton] is a distributist, which means today a Redistributist. He has arrived by his own path at my own position.” (“Do We Agree? A Debate Between G.K. Chesterton and Bernard Shaw,” 1928.)
Henry George: New Age economic guru.
Chesterton, of course, denied that distributism means redistributism . . . but never really said how people are to become owners otherwise.  Perhaps that is why so many of Chesterton’s latter day followers agree with Shaw and not with Chesterton, especially in their adulation of the thought of Fabian socialists Arthur Penty, E.F. Schumacher . . . and Henry George.
George’s ideas were integrated into Fabian socialism and expanded beyond land to all forms of capital, then mixed in with concepts from theosophy (what Chesterton called “Esoteric Buddhism”).  This made for a rather unhealthy and inedible mass of contradictory assertions directly at odds with basic common sense.  Shaw complained in his talk about Fabians who wanted to limit the understanding of socialism to “the extinction of private property in land,” viz., “It is a revelation of the extent of the spread of the doctrines of the American, Henry George, in other countries than his own.” (Ibid.)
Oddly, today’s distributists — or, at least, those officially sanctioned by the Benevolent Association of Fanatical Factionalists Leading Every Distributist (BAFFLED) — appear to be of the opinion that distributism cannot survive without georgism . . . or so one of the Inner Circle of Kindred Yahoos (ICKY) claims.  This (as you might expect) leaves us a little, er, baffled, for a fundamental tenet of georgism is that you can’t own anything you didn’t make with your own labor, like land and natural resources . . . and (assuming they’re being consistent) livestock.  In this rather icky scenario, the distributist mantra of “three acres and a cow” becomes “three units of something you can’t own and another thing you can’t own” as a way to restore private property. . . .
In an effort to bring a stop to all the confusion, Shaw stated his definition of socialism clearly and forcefully: “ ‘Whether a man’s motive,’ he says, ‘is the usual one, the rescue of our civilization from its present misery, or whether it is something else, he is a Socialist if he advocates this substitution of public for private property.’ ” (Ibid.)  Karl Marx couldn’t have said it any better . . . in fact, Marx said the same thing in slightly different words, as did Pope Leo XIII:
Leo XIII: Inviolability of private property is the first principle.
[I]t is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.  (Rerum Novarum, § 15.)
Now, we don’t expect the socialists to agree with Marx, Shaw, or Leo.  After all, the Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned socialism in no uncertain terms, and the last thing socialists want is certainty about what they’re talking about . . . from other people, anyway, as Shaw explained.  The more you can keep people confused and off-balance, the better off and more effective the socialist movement will be.  And the more money you'll collect.
The problem is that in confusing others, many socialists have only succeeded in confusing themselves, again as Shaw pointed out.  So, while the authorities we’ve cited agree that socialism can be summed up as the abolition of private property . . . what does that mean, exactly?
Tune in Monday to find out.

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