The Top 5 Forms of Socialism Denial
Last week, I argued that denying the disastrous consequences of socialism is the Left’s equivalent of Holocaust denial.
In response, I have been treated to many excellent examples of exactly the kind of denial I was talking about. Heck, the New York Times even obliged by publishing an op-ed on Saturday that hails the “moral authority” and “sense of humanity” of American socialists and communists.
So far, I have catalogued five major forms of socialism denial.
1) But Communists Oppose Fascism
How dare you say denying the evils of socialism is like denying the Holocaust? Don’t you know that Communists are the sworn enemies of fascism? It was the Soviet Union who really defeated Hitler, and the Soviets were the ones who liberated Auschwitz.
Notice something missing from this argument. Auschwitz was in German-occupied Poland. And who was the ally with whom Hitler divided up Poland? That’s right, it was the Soviet Union, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. I don’t think the old Soviets deserve any moral credit for helping defeat an evil regime when the Nazis were originally their allies who double-crossed them. And when the Soviets did “liberate” a country, they imposed the same evils as the Nazis did: mass deportations, torture, summary execution, suppression of free speech, and so on. One form of oppression was switched out for another.
The connection goes even deeper. The founder of fascism, Benito Mussolini, started out as a Communist and a leader of the Italian Socialist Party. When he turned against Communism, he set out to create a new ideology that retained a lot of the same features—particularly the ideas of total state control and rule by a party elite—but with a nationalist twist. The result was called “national socialism,” which the Germans abbreviated to “Nazi.” Far from socialism and fascism being ideological opposites, one was created out of the other.
But creating confusion about that issue, and presenting themselves as the only alternative to fascism, was a centerpiece of Soviet propaganda, and to this day American leftists buy it hook, line, and sinker.
Take just one example. The leftist folk-song guru and Communist fellow traveler Woody Guthrie used to carry a guitar with the label “ This Machine Kills Fascists” while he supported the war effort in World War II, and it’s a trope modern leftists still use. If you want to be really cloying and self-important, you can get a decal based on Guthrie’s that you can attach to your Macbook.
The people who use this don’t know the actual history behind it. Before he decided his guitar was a machine that killed fascists, Guthrie was using it to record anti-war songs. He only adopted a pro-war message in 1941 after Hitler invaded Russia and the Communists flipped their party line. So he was against fascism, but only if that was okay with Joseph Stalin.
Or consider today’s “antifacist” protesters, who dress all in black, embrace the use of violence and firebombs to shut down their political opponents, and generally look and act exactly like fascists.
Ideologically, socialism and fascism are not opposites. Historically, the conflict between them has been a rivalry between two different enemies of liberty, which is now being repeated—whether as tragedy or farce depends on how you look at it—in the campus clashes between “alt-right” and “antifa” brawlers.
This is another socialism denial trope borrowed from Soviet propaganda, but this time it’s Brezhnev-era propaganda. Whataboutism was a term coined to describe a common Soviet debating tactic. When confronted with the evils of their own regime, they would deflect the question by pointing out a real or imagined evil in the West, usually beginning with “But what about….”
Whataboutism is still alive and quite well. You say that socialism leads to poverty and mass starvation? Well, what about the plight of the poor and hungry under capitalism? You say socialist countries tend to crack down on dissent, attack peaceful protesters, and jail opposition leaders—as they are currently doing in Venezuela? But what about police shootings and “mass incarceration” in America? (The Black Lives Matter movement is a giant instrument of Whataboutism.) Socialist countries have killed millions of people? Well, what about all of America’s “imperialist” warmongering, huh? What about that?
Logically, Whataboutism is a version of the Tu Quoque fallacy. Rather than answering an accusation about your own side’s wrongdoing, you deflect it by pointing to somebody else’s real or imagined wrongdoing. But that’s not an answer or an excuse.
When it comes to socialism denial, the most relevant observation is that the evils the Left attributes to capitalism, which are supposed to create a moral equivalence between capitalism and socialism, aren’t even on the same order of magnitude, and are often in the opposite direction.
That nostalgic piece in the New York Times, for example, refers unironically to American socialists being motivated by “an urgent sense of social injustice”—a sense so urgent it somehow never applied to, say, the liquidation of the kulaks.
Above all, consider the socialists’ vaunted concern for poverty. Yet socialism has a record of making rich countries poor, while capitalism has a record of making poor countries rich. The most relevant example today would be Venezuela, which was until fairly recently the wealthiest country in South America. Under the rule of socialists, it has become one of the poorest, despite large reserves of oil. Meanwhile, Chile has gone from being one of the poorest countries in South America a few decades ago to becoming one of the wealthiest, thanks to its embrace of free markets. I should also note that while Venezuela has fallen into dictatorship under socialism, Chile moved away from it under capitalism. It’s almost like there’s a connection between those two issues.
This is an experiment that has been repeated over and over again: West Berlin versus East Berlin, Hong Kong versus mainland China (before the mainland went semi-capitalist, too). Or look at India after 1991, when it rejected Soviet-inspired socialist economics and finally achieved economic takeoff.
Capitalism has produced so much prosperity that the Left had to flip over to environmentalism so they could portray “too much” prosperity as a problem. There’s just no comparison between the two systems.
You’ll notice that so far I’ve used mostly repressive regimes like the Soviets as my examples—partly because so many socialist countries end up as dictatorships, and partly because the American Left is still waxing nostalgic about them. But surely not all socialist regimes are so deadly and oppressive. That leads us to the most common form of socialism denial today.
5) No True Socialist
Some don’t want to have to defend impoverished and oppressive regimes like Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea, and who can blame them? But rather than ask how socialism could go so bad in those countries, they insist that these are not “really” socialist. They may look socialist and act socialist and call themselves socialist, but it’s all an illusion.
That this is an evasion, a form of willful denial, can be seen in the fact that countries tend to slide pretty quickly from being “real” socialism to suddenly not being “real” socialism the moment they do something that is embarrassing to the cause. A few years ago, a lot of people, from Sanders on down, were hailing Venezuela as a great example of the achievements of socialism. Now that the Maduro regime is shooting protesters, suddenly it’s not real socialism.
This is a perfect adaptation of the No True Scotsman fallacy. It goes something like this. A tartan-clad man claims, “No Scotsman would put sugar on his porridge.” His companion objects, “But my uncle Hamish puts sugar on his porridge.” The reply: “Aye, then he must be no true Scotsman.” No matter how many counter-examples you can come up with, they will be dismissed as “no true Scotsman.”
If you’ve ever had something like this happen to you, then you are prepared for arguing with socialists, because no matter how many examples you can come up with for the failures of socialism, somehow none of them are ever “real” socialism.
This is circular reasoning. Socialism declares that its goals are freedom, prosperity, and total equality. If, in practice, it actually results in oppression, poverty, and special privileges for the party elites, then it must not be “real” socialism. By that standard, socialism can never fail, because if it fails, it is by definition not really socialism. This No True Socialist argument is denial in its purest form: the belief that the unpleasant real-world results of your theory won’t exist if you just define them out of existence.
What the Left is trying to define out of existence is a second Holocaust: decades of gulags, killing fields, torture, repression, and poverty inflicted on hundreds of million of people. And it’s an evil that continues claiming victims today, in part because socialism denial has seeped so deeply into our culture. It’s time to stop tolerating it, in the same way we don’t tolerate Holocaust denial, and for the same reason: to make sure it won’t happen here.