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Ron Radosh

Left-wing Hope Springs Eternal

December 12th, 2008 - 4:52 pm

Socialism never seems to die, at least to its Western European remnant. After the fall of the Soviet Union and its subordinate so-called  ”People’s Democracies,” it became fashionable for the Marxisant Left in Europe to make the following argument: “Really existing socialism wasn’t socialism; it was a deformed variant created out of the rubble of war and the circumstances of its creation in backwards Russia.”  Hence, they claimed, to say socialism had failed is to say only that it had not as yet ever been tried. When we succeed to build it in economically developed and politically civilized Western Europe, its promise will be fulfilled.

A few years back, Joshua Muravchik wrote his important book, Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. Both a history of the idea from its origin to the present, as well as a survey of socialism’s collapse in the present day, Muravchik discusses how socialism failed throughout the world. This is true not only in the Soviet bloc- where its failure has been acknowledged by most everyone- but in the social-democratic states of Europe and in Africa and in Israel, where the kibbutz movement died a slow death and itself became part of a modern market economy. Unfortunately, it seems that a younger generation in Europe most in need of its message and analysis has not only ignored the book, but seems determined once again to repeat their ancestors’ mistakes.

This is the case at least to journalist Neil Clark, who writing in the leftist New Statesman (Great Britain) argues that “pure, unadulterated socialism…is making a strong comeback.”  Arguing that centrist and conservative political parties are seeing their electoral dominance challenged by socialist parties, he calls it “a clean break from the Thatcherist agenda that many of Europe’s center-left parties have embraced over the past 20 years.”  Clark points to Germany where Die Linke (“The Left”) has become the main opponent of the Christian Democrats in the old East Germany, where a nostalgia for socialism still exists. In the western sectors, they have scored heavily in Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Hesse, where they are taking away votes from the old Social Democratic Party.

Clark’s optimistic picture is way overstated. While the extremist left-wing Linke is indeed gaining ground, what it will succeed in doing is splitting both the Green vote and the Social-Democratic vote, as moderates in both these groups refuse any alliance with them. The effect will most likely be to put into power more conservative governments- not leftist ones. I doubt that the majority of Germans- already burdened by the collapsing economy due to heavy welfare state subsidies that are bankrupting the nation-want to put into power a party that demands a maximum wage, nationalization of industry, banning of hedge funds and the dismantling of a mixed economy with a strong private sector.

Clark also argues that a similar case exists in Holland, Greece, Norway and Spain. Aside from the latter, one must look at who is in power in the major European governments-Berlusconi in Italy, Sarkozy in France, and Merkel in Germany—-neither of them are in any way socialists. Indeed, even Clark has to admit that the prospects for socialist growth in France and his own Britain are next to nil.  In Britain, the left-wing parties favor unrestricted immigration- a program hardly popular with working-class Brits who have seen the effect on their culture from the rapid growth of radical Islamic sects in London.

To this reader of Clark’s article- and he is hardly an objective analyst, but a socialist activist of the far left himself-his claim that the “prognosis for socialism in Britian and the rest of Europe is good” comes off as nothing but a pipe dream. It reminds me of the old joke:  as an old revolutionary is being lowered into the grave, he shouts out his one dying breath: “This is but a tactical retreat.”

I also want to recommend must reading. Yesterday I mentioned Sean Penn, the great pretend journalist. An indispensable scathing criticism of his report on Venezuela and Cuba appears on the website of Reason, the libertarian magazine. Written by Michael Moynihan, it bears the wonderful title “Dumb Man Talking,” a sarcastic reference for those who might not get it- to Penn’s film- “Dead Men Walking,” his attack on the death penalty. So kudos to Michael Moynhan for the best piece on the web this week.

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