Socialism and Communism: Successes and Failures Throughout History
After World War I, many nations attempted to return to a state of normalcy, but things had become so different and unknown to people that their only way to conquer these things was by delving into the unknown and solving their problems as they attempted to move on. Many European citizens had grown weary and resentful of the war and looked for a system that did not require war to fuel its economy, that system was socialism. They experimented with socialism, experienced its ups and downs, and either helped progress or inhibit the movement in their country. Much of this turmoil was not a result of the average citizen, however. While they attempted to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives, their politicians were raging political wars with each other to either gain power or continue to maintain it. As socialism entered the political face of many countries for the first time, it was tossed around by its opponents and given false labels; it either stuck to the political face or was forgotten. Either way, the socialist movement is a fascinating one to learn about and to analyze and ask oneself if socialist politicians had done things differently, could they have been more successful in making socialism the most powerful political force in their country and the world?
I believe that the most important achievement of the social democratic movements in Europe was their strong anti-war position regarding World War I. What most people believed to be an event of showmanship in regards to nationalism, World War I evolved into a nasty war with millions of lives lost, leaving many European countries at the bottom of the economic ranks. The very fact that the social democrats advocated for peace even before the war helped them gain power and support after it. In Eric Hobsbawm’s “The Age of Empire,” he writes about the pacifist social democrats. “Anti- war sentiment naturally raised the political profile of the socialists, who increasingly reverted to their movements’ pre-1914 opposition to war. Indeed, some parties (e.g. in Russia, Serbia, and Britain-the independent labour party) never ceased to oppose it, and, even where socialist parties supported the war, its most vocal enemies were to be found in their ranks” (Hobsbawm 59). The people of Europe had grown tired of the war and wanted peace and a return to life as it had been before the fighting broke out. They began to see the socialist parties as a path towards peace and normalcy. Hobsbawm writes, “No wonder the Austro-Hungarian censors, monitoring the correspondence of their troops, began to note a change in tone. “If only the good Lord would bring us peace” turned into “We’ve had enough” or even “They say the socialists are going to make peace”” (Hobsbawm 59). One of the greatest achievements, or better yet, one of the best positions the socialists took was the anti-war and anti-revolution stance they held as a means to an end. Reform was their preferred method.
Another great achievement of the social democratic movement was their vision of a slow transition from a privatized capitalist system to a nationalized socialist system. They believed that a mixed economy is necessary as a preliminary system before privatized industries-oil, banking, transportation, etc.-could be nationalized and handed over to the people. I am very much a proponent of a steady transition from a capitalist system to a socialist system because during that transition we experience the best of both systems. We experience the competition between industries that continuously improves our products in a capitalist system and government intervention that limits the prices of the products that these industries create to maintain fair prices and fair wages for the workers who make them. It only makes sense, however-and this is why I believe it is important to make that transition from capitalism to socialism-to have an economic plan to make absolutely sure that the nation’s economy, as well as a global economy, is not left at the mercy of the volatile capitalist system, where there are more losers than winners. In John Eaton’s “Political Economy,” he writes on economic planning, “Economic planning, increasing production and consumption together, can maintain a continuous increase of the national product, whereas slumps and economic stagnation in a “market-economy” cause millions of productive man-hours to be lost over prolonged periods” (Eaton 205). Although I previously stated that, in a capitalist system, products and services are continuously progressing in quality, much of that progress is lost as corporations and industries limit production due to a stagnating economy. A mixed, social democratic vision for the economy is best, at least until the transition from capitalism to socialism is complete.
On the other hand, the socialist democratic movement made many errors in their ways and lost out to either their father left comrades, the communists, and the capitalists. One of the major flaws in the Soviet systems economic method was its inflexibility as compared to capitalism. Eric Hobsbawm writes on socialist countries inflexibility, “This only made the crisis of the 1980s more acute, for the socialist economies-and notably the free-spending Polish one-were too inflexible to utilize the influx of resources productively” (Hobsbawm 474). The Russian socialist bureaucracy was also stubbornly adamant against issuing any sort of reform. The politicians were more concerned with immediate relief than they were creating long lasting reforms that would stabilize their socialist system and make them more productive, reliable, and effective. Hobsbawm writes, “The Brezhnev years were to be called the “era of stagnation” by the reformers, essentially because the regime had stopped trying to do anything serious about a visibly declining economy” (Hobsbawm 437). They continuously looked for the easy way out and faced the consequences in the end. Hobsbawm summarizes their efforts when he writes, “Buying wheat on the world market was easier than trying to cure the apparently growing inability of Soviet agriculture to feed the people of the U.S.S.R. Lubricating the rusty engine of the economy by means of a universal and omnipresent system of bribery and corruption was easier than to clean and re-tune, let alone to replace it” (Hobsbawm 437). I cannot help but make a comparison between the U.S.S.R.’s dysfunctional politicians with our own. Although our politicians work in an entirely different system, their unceasing ability to put off important reforms for short-term fixes is uncanny.
I believe that we continue to live in an age of extremes, made especially evident to me by the current political battles taking place in our own political system today. What I would like to see happen in this country is the development of an environment where businesses and industries-banks, oil, and even small businesses-can have enough room to grow and thrive in a healthy market that is protected by regulation issued from a responsible government that has a sincere investment in the protection of its people. I do not know when our government decided that its most important responsibility to the people is fighting in cultural wars like gay rights, feminist rights, and political correctness. I believe that our government spends a great deal of time focusing on these issues, issues that, in reality, only affect a small portion of the population, instead of focusing in laying out economic reforms that can make us even stronger. I do not support a government that believes it has the right to interfere with our personal lives. I neither need nor want a government that attempts to sway my opinion to support a cause that I have no interest in supporting. As harsh as this may sound, what importance do gay rights pertain to me, as an example? They do not and yet the government continues to urge me to support the cause even as I struggle with issues that more people suffer through than gay rights, like paying student loans. I am, however, a proponent of a government that focuses on regulating our monstrous industries, banking especially. Therefore, I consider myself a socialist. The future of socialism in America begins when people realize that the government’s main duty to us is protecting us from corporate greed and exploitation. This should be their number one priority and this is what we should be demanding from them.
After completing the readings assigned in this course, I acquired better understanding of socialism and communism as ideologies and as practices. I learned how feudalism gives birth to capitalism and how capitalism gives birth to socialism. I was given the opportunity to learn communist theory from the greatest communist philosophers, from Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin to Frederick Engels. I was also able to compare the socialist/communist systems to the capitalist system and figure out the pros and cons of both. It is in my opinion that the most important thing I learned from this course is that all sources of media should be researched before making an independent judgment on an issue. It is not enough to rely on one source of media to obtain the “goings on” of present day life. Many of the major news outlets do not report important news that goes against their own biases, which leaves out a great deal of information that should be known by the public. What I found most interesting about the material we covered in class was the different workings of the capitalist system and the socialist/communist systems. I find it amazing how intelligent economists and theorists are able to create new economic methods and then put them into practice and either watch them fail or succeed. In terms of which system I think works best, I believe that a mixed economy creates the most productive and efficient workforce. Our businesses need an environment where they are given the freedom to grow but are watched over by a larger entity than themselves, the government, to make sure they do not cheat the nation for personal profits.