To guide your summer getaway book selections, try this formula: E=FB²
The cover story in our last issue showed the dangers of socialism—but New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pooh-poohs the notion that American socialism could lead to “Soviet-style central planning, or Venezuela-style nationalization of industry; … there is essentially nobody in American political life who advocates such things. … Scaremongering over socialism is both silly and dishonest.”
Hmm. When teenager Ioseb Jughashvili (he later changed his name to Stalin) became an atheist after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, I suspect he didn’t set out to murder at least 20 million people. Hugo Chávez wanted to soak the Venezuelan rich, but I suspect he did not want to starve the poor—yet he and Nicolás Maduro turned South America’s richest country into its poorest.
Chávez and Stalin both had a high DQ, Determination Quotient. They were initially democratic socialists, but when they ran into obstacles that led others to give up, they intensified their efforts. When Ukrainians resisted the forced collectivization of agriculture, Stalin’s agents seized their crops and created a famine that claimed at least 4 million lives. When some of Stalin’s comrades said the cost of socialism was too high, he doubled down by killing them too.
When revolutions leave a power vacuum, the most ruthless eventually fill it.
The problem is that democratic socialism does not work. Socialism goes against entrepreneurial and familial instincts: People work harder when they and their families profit by it, and people work smarter when they can run with creative ideas rather than shuffle through a bureaucracy. Ardent socialists in power soon see their locomotive stalling. What happens then?
Historically, some democratic socialists gave in and chose compromise over killing. Those with the highest DQ persevered, sacrificing democracy in the belief that a little more coal—then a lot more—will get the train moving again. Karl Marx mocked democratic socialists and developed what he called “scientific socialism.” In 1873 he called himself “a true admirer” of Darwin and saw socialist revolution as a survival of the fittest, with the corpses of those formerly in charge left in the dust.
Bill Clinton in 1993 signed into law the Friendship Act, which authorized construction of a Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. The act, adding up victims in China, Russia, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Cuba, and elsewhere, cited the deaths of more than 100,000,000 and said we should remember them so “never again will nations and people allow so evil a tyranny to terrorize the world.”
Was such tyranny inevitable? Seems that way, since when revolutions leave a power vacuum, the most ruthless eventually fill it. The American Revolution was an amazing exception, but what Edmund Burke said about the French Revolution has been true of every socialist upheaval: “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.”
I know the endgames not only from reading history but living my life. I became an atheist after reading H.G. Wells’ A Short History of the World and Freud’s The Future of an Illusion. In 1968, at age 18, I was a democratic socialist. Then came frustrations. The war in Vietnam went on and on. As a columnist on my college newspaper, I walked through city slums, saw poor inner-city public schools, and interviewed prisoners. Nixon was president and Congress seemed a ship of fools. I went on a five-day hunger strike to support striking cafeteria workers.
Later, I realized those causes were justification for what I wanted to do anyway because of arrogance, covetousness, and hatred of God. Those sinful tendencies cascaded me into the Communist Party USA at age 22 and onto a Soviet freighter across the Pacific, into an inner office at the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo, and into a compartment on the Trans-Siberian Railroad for the 6,000-mile trip to Moscow.
I hadn’t planned for that long journey until the year it happened. I hadn’t planned to stand before the Kremlin in November, ready to enlist as a Russian propagandist. Leon Trotsky in 1940 did not expect to die with Stalin’s ice pick in his brain. Nor did Cuban democratic socialists think they would end up with Fidel Castro. But they did. The good news is that I did not plan to become a Christian in 1976. But God did.