NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

For Socialists, Damage-Control Became a Must

April 1, 2002

Whenever and wherever socialists seized power in the last century, disaster was quick to follow. That meant they quickly had to become nimble at suppressing dissent -- through brute force -- and adept at damage control. This is one of the themes Joshua Muravchik explores in his new book, "Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism," published by Encounter.

His history traces the great and not-so-great individuals who made socialism happen: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Deng Xiaoping, Mikhail Gorbachev and other devotees of collective ownership and -- all too often -- political despotism.

  • Wherever it was tried, socialism was an economic failure and thus a failure in its own materialistic terms.
  • From Robert Owen's utopian community in America, to the large-scale Soviet disaster, to the decolonized countries of the Third World, socialist economies never managed to be as productive as their capitalist rivals -- and almost all resulted in crushing inefficiencies and desperate poverty.
  • Yet despite socialism's record of failures, the movement flourished until, by 1985, about 70 countries and nearly two-thirds the world's population lived under socialist regimes.
  • In its waning days, it became painfully obvious that socialism could not exist without compulsion -- a lesson which was Gorbachev's legacy -- and the house of cards came tumbling down.

In China, Deng Xiaoping tried to preserve a repressive one-party state while liberalizing the economy. That experiment is still underway, but the very fact of its attempt only highlights the failure of socialism in China.

Source: Yuval Levin, "Bookshelf: A Political Idea and Its Empty Promises," Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2002.


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