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Saturday, July 29, 2006
In 1906, we were still eleven years away from Lenin and the Soviet experiment, and there were a number of Socialist movements that claimed to hold the answer to the problems created by capitalism.
It is an interesting lesson to read what the proponents of socialism expected the system to produce, although the practical applications of socialism, be it in Soviet Russia, Maoist China, North Korea, or Cuba, the expectations of socialism have largely been missed - mainly because all of these systems of "socialism" and "peoples democracy" boil down to despotic dictatorships by a relatively few all-powerful individuals.
A letter to the editor in the July 29, 1906 NYT shows how naive and hopeful the proponents of socialism were:
As we are not yet living under Socialism, let us examine some phases of the present system of capitalism and see what it is doing to the home and family.
The argument here is that private property is not secured under the capitalist system. To own property one must pay for it, or trade one's productivity for the productivity of another. Under socialism, the promise is that we will all own our own home and there will be no evictions. This is likely true, in an ideal application of socialism, because all ownership would be by the public. There would be no individual property right holder who would be able to exact the terms of trade from an individual who chose not to abide by his/her contract.
In the actual applications of socialism over the next sixty years, one was not just evicted from your house. Rather, you were evicted and herded onto collective farms, were loaded on trains and shipped to far-distant lands in internal exile, or were shipped to the Gulag to work in sub-zero temperatures, or were simply starved to death by the very socialist government that was the promise of the land of milk and honey.
The letter goes on:
The labor of woman to-day in industrial pursuits means the total destruction of the family life of the workingman. In 1890 over 3,000,000 women were wage workers, an increase of 125 percent over 1880, and in 1900 there were 4,000,000 women engaged in occupations in this country, and of this number there are a million married women working in factories because the wages their husbands receive are not sufficient to support their families. How much family life worthy of the name can exist in homes where the wife and mother has to work hard labor in a factory from eight to twelve hours a day?
It might be true that women were entering the workforce during this period. And the complaints in 1906 are very similar to those heard today. However, as the number of women increased the supply of labor, ceteris paribus, they would be expected to push down the wages of women but also of men for whom women would be reasonable substitutes. Socialism therefore promises that women will be allowed to stay at home and raise the children, cook, clean, and other domestic chores - even if they do not want to? - and in return the man will earn enough to support his family.
In practice, the socialist states have never supported stay-at-home moms, mainly because stay-at-home moms have a lot of free time (relative to working under the nose of the dictatorship of the proletariat) and socialist systems cannot tolerate free time because, in their mind, free time almost always leads to counter-revolutionary thoughts. These are the thoughts that typically get you killed in socialist states. Moreover, the purges, the millions starved and sent to the Gulags are not exactly good for the homelife, nor is encouraging children to turn on their parents for counter-revolutionary thoughts or statements.
After a few other comparisons, including child labor, the reluctance of many men to get married and the subsequent increase in prostitution, and the shockingly high divorce rate of 10%, the letter writer opines:
To maintain that the establishment of collective ownership of the mines, factories, and land and the abolition of the exploitation of the worker, which really include the full programme of Socialism, would abolish the family is to maintain that the family depends upon monopoly and extortion, and Socialists do not think so meanly of the marriage relation as that...they see rather in present conditions the greatest menace to perfect family life. Socialism, they believe, would for the first time make possible marriage and a home life founded upon mutual respect and love, and not, as to-day in the great majority of cases, upon economic convenience.
I wonder how many marriages in 1906 were not at least partly founded on love and respect. Things today are not much different than they were 100 years ago. While there are a large proportion of divorces today, many, if not most, are caused by "repeat offenders." While it might have been the case that some women (and men?) stayed in a broken marriage out of economic necessity, the very capitalist system that is castigated by the letter-writer would also eventually, if grudgingly, allow women to earn their own living and make it more plausible that a divorced woman can survive on her own.
As for those men who did not want to get married, there is no moral obligation for any individual to marry another. If a man doesn't want to get married, then that is his choice. Does this create a demand for prostitution that would not be as large if these very men were married? Perhaps. However, it is not clear that there would be any less debauchery if these very men were married, i.e., it isn't clear that those who visit cat-houses would necessarily be very good husbands and fathers, at least in the area of monogamy.
Finally, the child labor laws of the early 1900s may have been nearly non-existent, but this too would change as it became clear that the human capital developed through education is largely superior to the human capital you can generate through work/apprenticeship (perhaps pro sports or acting are exceptions?).
However, the idea that a socialist state would ultimately respect the privacy and intimacy of a loving relationship is laughable. Love and intimacy is incompatible with socialism (read Anthem or We The Living by Ayn Rand), and common ownership of all means of production (including reproduction?). The idea that socialism would provide a fertile environment for marriage based upon love is a Utopian dream.
In reality, socialist states often preclude marriage, destroy marriages thorough prison, bullets, blackmail, or simple spite (read The Love Child and the Innocent by Solzhenitsyn). Child labor may have been "outlawed" by socialist states but it was never banished from society. Indeed, rather than capitalist pig-dogs hiring children, the state often drafted children and youths for work. Whether digging canals or harvesting wheat or other crops, children from grade school through high school were often recruited into worker battalions and literally marched off to do the peoples' (read the dictator's) bidding. These actions were not remunerated with a wage but rather with the praise of the proletariat. Take that to the local butcher and see what you get.
I have no direct data on the divorce rate of socialist systems, however my readings of the experiences of actual people in these systems suggests that divorce was just as common, if not more common, amongst certain segments of the population, as in the capitalist systems. This might follow because there are more reasons to distance yourself from an individual - be it for work lapses, drinking, counter-revolutionary activity, thoughts, or statements, or just crossing the wrong party aparatchik - in a socialist system. Moreover, there are fewer deterrents to divorce - including a lack of religion.
Perhaps we might forgive the proponents of socialism in the early 1900s before their grand experiments were undertaken. However it would not have been difficult at the time to follow the logic that common ownership by all means no specific ownership by anyone. This in turn causes more problems than it proposes to solve, as has been so well documented during and after the dissolution of these experiments.
What is more frustrating is watching and listening to apologists for Socialism today - even with the stark evidence of the millions of people killed/starved/shot/purged staring them in the face. For the most part, those who lobby the most for Socialism are the very people who would be killed/starved/shot/purged when the revolution occurs. I pity them for what appears to be their suicide pact, yet their suicide pact necessarily includes everyone else in what might be one of the largest negative externalities imaginable. My real pity is for those who live under the yoke of common ownership. That so many could have died and have no impact on the debate is a true crime against humanity.
Remember as Ayn Rand once said (perhaps borrowed from someone else?): there is no collective stomach.
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