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An Open Letter to a Self-Described ‘Socialist’

One cannot ignore the legacy of communism: millions dead, imprisoned, and ultimately, not free.

Dear Philip,

I’m writing like this because I didn’t know how better to respond to emails in which you related, in passing, that despite reservations about aspects of progressivism, you were “kind of socialist.” You wrote this well before the United States descended into a riotous state in May, and my reply here will hardly touch on current events. You probably noted that I did not respond immediately. I wasn’t sure how to. It would have seemed trite to ask “what kind” in an email—clearly you are not Stalinist, Maoist, or Trotskyite in any orthodox sense. And flippant to respond, “Yeah great, but that never seems to have worked out too well in actual practice.” But I assumed that if you were “socialist” in the way of François Mitterand during most of his presidency, or François Hollande, or, as Bernie Sanders says, “like Denmark” (probably to deflect scrutiny of his past and beliefs) you would not have bothered to make the remark. European social democracy has made such a durable and lasting peace with parliamentary institutions, civil liberties, and the right of individuals to own property that neither its partisans, nor its left-wing detractors, depict it as “socialism.” 

I am aware that the discourse I am going to inflict will seem very last-century and beside the point to many people. You and I are part of the last generation of Americans for whom the issues of communism and the Cold War were taken seriously on our college campuses, if then only by a small subset of students and professors. The colleges we attended were overwhelmingly liberal in their students and faculties, but there was still a major contingent of liberal anti-communists on the faculty, people who themselves had come of age when the revolutionary communist movement allied with the Soviet Union was ideologically powerful and plausibly viewed as potentially victorious. Even when communism on the Soviet model was no longer widely admired in the West—the major disenchantment did not set in until the late 1940s, and considerably later in Western Europe—the struggle between the Free World and the communist world, which at least once brought us to the brink of nuclear war, was the scale the upon which virtually every political event throughout the world was weighed by the intelligence services and diplomatic corps of Washington and Moscow and many other capitals. 

Never has a battle of such importance faded so quickly from memory. This was in part due to circumstance; the Soviet empire’s collapse, in the midst of seemingly minor unrest, almost completely unanticipated by professional observers, was sudden and bloodless. Washington and the West, eager to integrate the former Soviet countries into a pacific neoliberal world, had no wish to celebrate its victory. There would be no Nuremberg type trials of Soviet bloc leaders, no solemn efforts at decommunization. Indeed, how could there have been? By 1989 the Soviet Union was seeking to reform itself. For a generation it had been more sclerotic dictatorship than practitioner of internal revolutionary terror. 

The result is that very few Americans born after 1970 have any sense of the texture and content, the passions of the battles waged around the communist idea. History in the schools and universities of the West now seems to be taught almost entirely through the lens of the crimes whites have committed against colonial subjects and people of color among those they ruled over —at least such is the impression one gets whenever young people talk about the lessons of history. The Holocaust constitutes the major exception, and the horrific enormity of the Nazi project is documented in the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has had 40 million visitors since its opening in 1993. In popular culture, Nazis and their crimes have remained a bottomless source of significant books and movies. In striking contrast, the victims of communism are commemorated officially by a ten-foot statue in a tiny park near Union Station, tended by a small private foundation. 

But when you speak of socialism, my historical antennae and not entirely forgotten knowledge of the history which created those victims, are aroused. For as important as fascism and Nazism were to the history of the West in the past century, the history of communism, and its sometime synonym socialism, in their Bolshevik, Maoist, and other iterations was more central, more critical to what politically engaged people all over the world were arguing about, fighting over, dying over. Communism, not fascism, was the major story of the 20th century. 

Of course, their histories were profoundly intertwined. Ostensibly enemies, also siblings, both born in the wake of a war whose length and brutality no European alive in 1914 could have conceived of in what was considered the most civilized part of the earth. By its end, millions of men who had endured military conscription and experienced violence on scales previously unknown entered into European politics. For the war’s non-winners, this new age of the masses was colored by the sense of meaningless sacrifice. The war shattered the Russian state, leaving power to be scooped up in October 1917 by the tiniest of armed factions with a willful leader. A few years later Mussolini toppled a weak government in Italy. In Germany, initial communist attempts to emulate Lenin’s successful putsch failed, put down by right-wing veterans of the Freikorps, and Hitler too was rebuffed in his first attempt at seizing power by force. But the Bolsheviks, Mussolini’s fascists, and the Nazis shared prior convictions which the war had magnified: a hatred of the bourgeoisie, of capitalism, of parliamentary democracy, of all the political habits and social constraints woven into the societies of 19th century Europe.

François Furet, author of the indispensable work about Western reactions to communism, The Passing of an Illusion, describes a sentiment widespread in the wake of the war:

Today it is hard to imagine the hatred aroused by parliamentary deputies at the time. The deputy was hated as the essence of all the lies of bourgeois politics. He symbolized oligarchy posing as democracy, domination posing as law, corruption lurking beneath the affirmation of republican virtue. The deputy was seen as exactly the opposite of what he pretended to be, of what he ought to be: in theory the representative of the people; in reality, the man through whom money—that universal master of the bourgeois—takes possession of the will of the people.

The power in this scabrous description lies in the fact that it was at least partially true. Building upon it, Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler in succession forged an antithesis, the three regimes, each emulating and building upon the actions of the others, creating a totally new kind of political power: the party state, government by a single party to which all political life was subordinated. The singular feature of the three regimes was the treatment of political murder and internal violence as a virtue, the treatment of one’s fellow citizens as enemies in war. Mussolini boasted of “our ferocious totalitarian will” in 1925, though his government never approached the domination of his subjects or the levels of internal violence achieved by Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin. By the 1930s, long before Hannah Arendt made the point in her famous The Origins of Totalitarianism, observers noted the similarity between Stalin’s Soviet regime and Nazi Germany. Some socialists like Karl Kautsky made the point repeatedly, as did liberals like Élie Halévy in his famous lecture The Era of Tyrannies. Numerous political figures, in France especially, rotated between communism and various parts of the anti-parliamentary Right in the 1930s. Hitler himself put the matter succinctly, in a 1934 conversation recorded by Hermann Rauschning: 

It is not Germany that will turn Bolshevist, but Bolshevism that will become a sort of National Socialism. Besides there is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it. There is above all genuine revolutionary feeling, which is alive everywhere in Russia except where there are Jewish Marxists. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that the Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois social democrat and trade union boss will never make a good National Socialist but the Communist always will.

The victims of communism are less commemorated than the victims of fascism, but there are more of them. Far more, in great part because communism was a living social model for a longer time and ruled over more people. The multi-authored Black Book of Communism, published in France in 1997 and two years later in the United States, estimates a death toll of 100 million. Most of what the authors depict was known long ago, though recently opened Soviet archives fill out the picture. Terror—the arrest, imprisonment, or execution of political opponents—was an inextricable part of the Leninist regime from its very outset. The concept of “enemies of the people” was introduced into law in November 1917. The fastest growing organ of the new government was the Cheka, the political police whose ranks grew from 100 to 12,000 in six months, and was liberated by Lenin from any need to follow, as its chief Felix Dzerzhinsky put it, “the nit-picking legalism of the ancien régime.” In January 1918, the Bolsheviks disbanded the first freely elected assembly in Russian history and shot those who protested publicly. Non-Bolshevik newspapers were shut, leaders of other political parties imprisoned. By the summer of 1918, the Red Terror was underway in earnest; according to Cheka documents, 10,000-15,000 executions were carried out in two months, more than double the total of Tsarist governments from 1825 to 1917. 

Grigory Zinoviev, a top Bolshevik and close Lenin confederate, exclaimed in 1918 that the Bolsheviks needed their own socialist terror—that they could get 90 million Russians on their side and “the other 10 million we’ll have to get rid of them.” Zinoviev’s estimate proved to be roughly half the eventual Soviet death toll, which appropriately later would include Zinoviev himself, purged and executed by Stalin in 1936. In any case the new regime initiated rolling waves of terror against different segments of the population—striking workers in cities, peasants who resisted their land being taken, against the Cossacks of the Don, the bourgeoisie. Of course, there was a brutal campaign against priests and nuns. Said one Cheka leader, “we are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. In your investigations, don’t look for documents or evidence about what the defendant has done…the first question you should ask him is what class he comes from, what are his roots, his education, his training.” As an editorial in the first issue of the Kiev Cheka newspaper put it, “Our morality has no precedent, and our humanity is absolute, because it rests on a new ideal. Our aim is to destroy all forms of oppression and violence. To us everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery but to liberate humanity from its shackles. Blood, let it flow like water!” 

It did. In terms of sheer number of victims, the most deadly Soviet effort was the campaign to “exterminate the kulaks as a class.” Kulaks were farmers who owned some land. After Stalin consolidated his rule, dekulakization was begun on a grand scale. GPU (the secret police which succeeded the Cheka) brigades went to expropriate kulak property—pillows, shoes, and underwear as well as land. Kulaks who resisted were executed or deported to Siberia; nearly 2 million were deported to forced labor camps in nearly uninhabitable locations. They perished by the hundreds of thousands. The great famine of Ukraine in 1932-1933, the result of Stalin’s collectivization policy, killed four million in Ukraine, another million in Kazakhstan, and another million in the northern Caucasus. Five years after the man-made famines, Stalin initiated his next wave of terror, going after the intelligentsia, party members, and industrial administrators: this period produced the famous trials in which top Bolshevik leaders confessed to outlandish crimes. These provoked at least some of communism’s progressive admirers in the West to question their adulation of Bolshevism. 

Communism became a global system, so the roughly 20 million deaths caused by Lenin and Stalin were only a beginning. In the Black Book’s estimate of 100 million deaths, the largest element comes from China’s famine during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” from 1957 to 1960. There, a combination of forcing peasants off private plots into communes, in emulation of Stalin’s anti-kulak policies, and an obsession to raise homegrown steel production at any cost produced the most deadly famine in the history of the world. Thirty years later the Chinese government estimated the death toll at 18 million, but many scholars put the figure at more than twice that. Rounding out the victim toll was China’s forced labor prison system, modeled on the Stalinist gulag. China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s, more visible to the outside world than famines or labor camps because it took place in cities, killed fewer people. But the sheer joy young Red Guards took in their public humiliations of so-called class enemies—teachers, scientists, authors, individuals with more knowledge or talent or prestige than they possessed—seemed an almost perfect embodiment of communist spirit. It is probably not an accident that this period coincided with the greatest growth of Maoist groups in the West, though they never matched the progressive adulation of Stalin received from progressives. In his review of The Black Book of Communism, Tony Judt related that he had heard a tenured Cambridge economist remark, at the height of the cultural revolution, that Maoism represented mankind’s best hope. On a per capita basis, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge are probably responsible for communism’s most violent interlude, leaving dead a quarter of their country’s population in a mere few years of power.

Despite its death toll, communism has seldom received the degree of moral obloquy as Nazism. One reason is simply historical. Stalin became (eventually, after Hitler broke the Hitler-Stalin pact) an ally in the war against Nazi Germany; Soviet armies were critical to the Allied victory; and Soviet jurors served at Nuremburg, passing judgement on Nazi crimes against humanity. After Stalin’s death, the Soviet system mellowed; gulag prisoners were freed, political dissidents faced imprisonment or exile rather than torture and death. A third reason is the strong attraction Stalinism had to a huge band of American intellectuals for many years, eventually to the extent that communists or fellow travelers or progressive anti-anti-communists controlled many of the most influential publications in the United States. They stood ready to extoll the Soviet regime or vilify those who sought to tell the truth about the terror or labor camps. Finally, and this remains true today, many who unambiguously and publicly deplored Stalinist terror still found a moral difference between Hitler’s killing and Stalin’s or Mao’s. Stalin and Mao killed “class enemies” viewed as impediments to a state of social equality; Hitler killed “race enemies,” an irremediable condition, which permitted no salvation for the victim’s children. In the useful formulation of the late Berkeley historian Martin Malia, “fascism never pretended to be virtuous.” 

* * *

At this point, Philip, or indeed earlier, you may wonder what does all this ancient history, about Lenin, the Cheka, Stalin and the party-state, the politically induced famines, the purge trials, the gulags, China’s similar labor camps and deadlier famines, have to do with the socialism that summons you? If one asked Bernie Sanders, or leaders of the Democratic Socialists of America, they would protest that the blood-soaked history of communism has nothing to do with the system they seek to impose. Socialist journals in the United States gave up their adulation of Stalin long ago. For decades, the revolutionary socialist position in the West had been that Stalin deviated from the righteous path that Lenin (or Lenin and Trotsky) laid out in 1917. But Lenin was undeniably the creator of the one-party state, the initiator of a terror regime against political opponents, the terminator of the first freely elected parliament in Russia’s history. One can now find (in the pages of Jacobin, for instance, a fairly new socialist publication—one whose name intentionally evokes the terror phase of the French Revolution) acknowledgment that Lenin, frankly, made some errors. This is put forward in a matter of fact way, rather as mainstream American historians acknowledge certain failings of the Founding Fathers. 

There actually is a strain of socialism genuinely untainted by this history of “really existing socialism,” as it used to be called. From the moment of the Bolshevik Revolution, there was resistance in the Second International—the grouping of European socialist parties, those who argued that a putsch and a terroristic dictatorship in relatively backward Russia could not possibly be the fulfillment of the socialist dream they had been working for. Karl Kautsky, the dean of Marxist theoreticians of his era, was anti-Bolshevik; so was Léon Blum, in 1920 the most eminent of French socialists. These two retained their Marxism and faith in proletarian revolution, a concession which put them at some sort of rhetorical disadvantage in argument with their “enemy brother” communists.

In the United States too, some American socialists were unquestionably democratic—sustaining an unimpeachable commitment to competitive free elections and civil liberties. On the murderous nature of Lenin’s and Stalin’s regime communism they were, more so than most liberals and many conservatives, completely undeceived. Throughout the 1930s and into the Cold War period, they were willing to speak out about Stalin’s crimes, often in alliance with liberals in anti-communist organizations. Norman Thomas, several times a Socialist Party candidate for president, was one of these; so, in subsequent generations and with less strident anti-communism, were Michael Harrington, famous for his important 1962 book on poverty, The Other America, and Irving Howe, founder of Dissent, and many others. But just as was the case in Europe, American non-communist or anti-communist socialists were always a far smaller part of the Left than those in the communist orbit as party members, reliable fellow travelers, admirers of whatever new revolutionary dictatorship had emerged in the Third World, or general floaters in the sea of pro-communist progressivism. 

The Bolshevik Revolution excited American progressives—“I have seen the future and it works” extolled Lincoln Steffens, in 1917 probably America’s most prominent liberal journalist, born of wealth and a friend to presidents. Steffens didn’t deny Lenin’s crimes but excused them, the price to be paid for entry to the socialist Promised Land. By the 1930s, with Nazism on the rise and the world economy in the throes of the Depression, communism was arguably the dominant ideology among American intellectuals. One can’t go through a book like A Better World, William O’Neill’s meticulous study of American intellectuals and Stalinism, without being astonished at how many of the memorable literary names of the 1930s and 1940s were at one point or another firmly in the communist orbit. This often required extraordinary mental gymnastics to exonerate or whitewash mass murder. Their platforms included the nation’s most important political magazines—The Nation and The New Republic, and popular ones like The Saturday Evening Post. It meant that prestigious publishers worked not only to extoll Stalinism but to stifle its critics. You may know of the difficulty George Orwell had in finding either an American or British publisher for Animal Farm, the well known allegorical novel critical of socialism. Bennet Cerf, the founder of Random House and the most well known American publisher of his generation, at one point proposed that the publishing industry withdraw all books critical of Russia. 

The cultural power of American Stalinism began to wane after World War II, and was more or less forced into full retreat after the Stalinist takeover of Eastern Europe began to sink in. But what remains remarkable about the period was how much genuine enthusiasm Stalin’s regime generated among American intellectuals for a long period. No matter how many innocents it imprisoned or killed, the Russian Revolution remained a sentimental favorite on the broader Left, in circles well beyond those who adhered to party line discipline or “orthodox” Marxism. As Raymond Robins, a wealthy benefactor of progressive causes, put it in a 1947 letter to Senator Claude Pepper: “Jefferson’s POLITICAL FREEDOM and Promise of EQUALITY has met LENIN’S ECONOMIC FREEDOM AND FULFILLED EQUALITY—and the new wine of LIBERTY in old bottles has begun to ferment.” I grew up hearing variants of such progressive bromides in my own home, from good people I loved. Many did.

Of course communism proved eventually, to the communists born into the system, if not to Western leftists, a failure and a lie. The Marxist philosophy of history, according to which the replacement of private ownership with a socialism defined by planning and the power of a party claiming to represent the proletariat, was supposed to bring about the end of social inequalities, a classless and stateless society. Nothing remotely like this happened in real life. The actual working class, in both communist Eastern Europe and the West, were more interested in the kind of economic amelioration workers in the United States and Western Europe achieved, without communism. 

The late 1970s were a dark time for progressives and socialists. The Vietnamese communists finally won, and within years millions of Vietnamese were trying to escape their country in small boats. The communist victory in Cambodia resulted in the death of a quarter of the population. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago dealt a mortal blow to communism’s prestige in France, the last Western country where it was considerable. These events also had troubling implications for democratic socialists as well, those who still kept faith in the possibility of a socialism without forced labor camps and with actual free elections. In 1978, Commentary magazine published a symposium on this question, asking whether political freedom was compatible with socialism at all. Various neoconservatives, many of them former communists or socialists, faced off against democratic socialists, who were a bit of a dying breed. At the time I was especially struck by a passage by William Barrett, a City College philosopher and veteran of the little magazine wars about Stalinism in the ’40s and ’50s. He wrote: 

How could we ever have believed that you could deprive human beings of the fundamental right to initiate and engage in their own economic activity without putting every other human right in jeopardy. And to pass from questions of rights to those of fact: everything we observe about the behavior of human beings in groups, everything we know about that behavior from history, should tell us that you cannot unite political and economic power in one center without opening the door to tyranny.

If one had to pick a coda for the American liberal intellectual fascination with communism, a good candidate occurred a few years after Barrett wrote. Poland’s commissars had just clamped down on Solidarity, the upstart labor union which they realized had far more legitimacy than the communist government. At a forum at New York’s Town Hall, before a progressive audience which felt itself under a kind of siege after Ronald Reagan’s election, Susan Sontag, renowned author and critic, the dark queen of New York’s literary intellectuals, took the stage. Sontag was still a woman of the Left, but she had in her recent years made numerous contacts with dissident writers in the communist world, and advocated for them. When she took the stage she opened with fighting words: “Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest [roughly the Fox News of its era] between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”

She concluded—putting into aphorism the point I laboriously sketched earlier in this letter—that “Communism is Fascism—successful Fascism if you will…what we have called Fascism…has largely failed…but Communism is in itself a variant, the most successful variant of Fascism, Fascism with a human face.”

Many in the crowd reacted with hoots and jeers. However long ago they had abandoned any faith in the Soviet bloc as a lodestar of progressive aspiration, they did not take well to being compared unfavorably to Reader’s Digest readers. Sontag was, in the end, and rather soon after, proved wrong about communism’s durability but only about that.

* * *

Now, nearly 40 years later, we have a new New Left, symbolized by the relative success of Bernie Sanders’s campaign, and you write that you find socialism appealing. Of course, many in the Sanders movement would deny vigorously that communism has anything to do with what they seek for America. Sanders himself likes to proclaim various Scandinavian social democracies as his model. This is not obviously true; he retained Trotskyite affiliations well into his 40s, honeymooned in the Soviet Union, and to this day cannot restrain himself from making exculpating and relativizing remarks about socialist dictatorships formerly allied with the Soviet Union. A non-socialist can nonetheless appreciate the Sanders appeal; many of his foreign policy views are far from crazy, and most of all he comes across as comfortingly familiar: the Jewish Marxist from Brooklyn is almost an American archetype, one which in real life has probably done less harm to other humans than any other type of communist. Nonetheless the forces which sustained his campaign are new, with both similarities and differences from previous socialist movements. 

First, and most obviously, this new New Left does not prioritize, or even pretend to prioritize, the working class. Honestly, it has been a long time since the socialist Left did. In its early stages the Students for a Democratic Society was animated by middle-class concerns about alienation and meaning in an affluent mass society; as the Sixties Left hardened during that pseudo-revolutionary decade, its leading voices made it clear that its revolutionary coalition would be blacks in the “internal colonies” of “Amerikkka” fighting in alliance with revolutionary youth. The lack of labor participation in what was called “the Movement” was one of its most notable features.

Those were prosperous years for American workers, as recent ones were not. The research of Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Denton has demonstrated a dramatic rise in “deaths of despair” among working-class whites—as the factories where they worked were moved abroad, marriages collapsed, rates of alcoholism and opioid addiction soared. This was the first time in America’s history (if one were to exclude the plight of Native Americans) that a large segment of the American population went backwards instead of forwards over a long period of time in terms of life expectancies and living standards. This American tragedy was contemporaneous with a surge in left-wing campus activism, the rise of MeToo feminism, Black Lives Matter, a rhetorical war on cops, an explosion of student and professor denunciations of systemic structural racism, white privilege, and border enforcement, an obsessive attention to what pronouns people use to describe themselves, indeed a new radicalism touching upon virtually every conceivable issue. Except one—if any campus activist sought to protest or even call attention to the literal death of working-class whites, they did it so quietly as to escape notice. 

The animating force of today’s Left has to do not with class in the Marxian sense, but race. If this was apparent well before the protests and riots over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it is now an unavoidable reality. But it is not obvious what program or policy can be derived from the belief that racism defines America. Certainly no critical race theorist approaches the brilliance or sheer rhetorical panache of Karl Marx, one of the great minds of the 19th century. 

Durable and attractive to intellectuals as it was, Marxism as social prophecy was false—the working class did not experience increased pauperization under capitalism, and as a consequence the dictatorial parties which sought to rule in its name had to lie repeatedly about the social reality around them. The current vogue of left-wing theory, which could be reduced to the belief that nearly every imaginable inequality is rooted in white racism, will prove no more true than Marxism: to make the most obvious point about it, in recorded history nations and peoples were spectacularly unequal in their levels of commerce, technology, literacy, and every other measure, not excluding the centuries when the white populations of Western Europe were mired in the Dark Ages. Any socialism derived from critical race theory will be forced to lie, and enforce public lies, about social reality every bit as much as their Marxist forebears did, and be no more tolerant of democracy or intellectual freedom than communism turned out to be. The word “racist” has already replaced “bourgeois” as the new master term of the Left, and is the one it would use, given the opportunity, to justify expropriation, resettlement, imprisonment, or execution. 

Well before the recent spate of American leftist intellectuals applauding violent insurrection in their own democratic country, one could observe, if only impressionistically, that the burgeoning new Left and the Sanders movement possesses no magical “American” quality which would make it less authoritarian in power than every socialist Left which has preceded it. Few liberals realize this, but the simple exercise of free speech rights has been made difficult for conservatives on virtually every American campus; where the Left actually does hold power, it wields it by denying free speech to its opponents whenever it can. Varied snapshots of the Sanders campaign are no more encouraging. Videos recorded by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, assiduously unreported by the national media, show paid Sanders staffers expounding with remarkable candor their desire for forced labor camps in the United States and for Republicans to be confined in them, while sometimes extolling specific camps in the Soviet gulag. The New York Times described the hosts of the popular socialist podcast Chapo Trap House revving up a crowd of Sanders campaign workers in Iowa with appreciatively received remarks of “let the hate feed you.” When British prime minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized with COVID-19, a prominent D.C. organizer for Democratic Socialists of America tweeted out that she hoped he “drowns in his own mucus.” Such men and women are clearly closer to being aspiring Felix Dzerzhinskys more than they are young Irving Howes. 

America was in crisis before COVID-19 hit, and the safest prediction in the world is that the economic devastation caused by the pandemic will lead to political instability. Clearly the working class collapse chronicled by Case and Denton reveals that the neoliberal globalist model was deeply flawed; whether it can be improved is far from clear. All kinds of social theories are now competing for attention on the Right and Left, and the future is unknown. But a great deal is known about one of these theories, Philip—the concentration of economic and political power that socialism calls for leaves people poorer and less free, at best. At worst, and very often, it leads to blood-soaked totalitarian terror states. So when you say you are “kind of socialist” I have to express my alarm. Social democracy, as practiced by the political heirs of those who definitively rejected the Bolshevik Revolution, tends to be a humane and moderately effective system of government. The socialist dream is more ambitious, more exciting, more geared to satisfy the very human yearning for total and unchallenged power. But I have learned to hate and fear it, and hope others do as well.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars.



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