When the Wall fell most of us thought that, even if history had not ended, Socialism was dead. Those of us who went to the East to build on the ruins wrought by decades of it little thought it still had legs. Its central thesis - that centralised economic planning would produce fairer and more effective results than the operation of market forces - had been tested to destruction. My grandfather's trucking business was run better by himself and his brothers than it ever was by British Road Services, when expropriated by a British Socialist government.
More than half of mankind experienced socialism in the twentieth century. Almost all of us experienced some less full-blooded implementations than were tried behind the Berlin Wall. There has never been a greater experiment in all human history and It led to the deaths of millions and the impoverishment of billions. If ever an idea was ready for the dustbin of history, surely this one was? Yet it marches on. A zombie ideology; dead but still a threat.
I can see that it's seductive. As we face the usual struggle in competition with others to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and those we love, of course we dream of a better, kinder, more efficient world. Looking back on a thirty year career, I know that much of my effort was misdirected, unrewarded or subverted to serve the goals of others. I could have taken care of my family as well with half or less of the effort, had I only known in advance what would work and what wouldn't. Yet I also know that I was very lucky. I was able to make myself financially independent (subject always to the predatory actions of future governments). Others work just as hard and never reach that goal. How unfair is that?
Sure, the alternative has been tried before with dire results, but I can see why some think it's worth another go. The wisdom of the young Paul Simon applies, as so often. "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." Socialism is seductive not because it's true, but because so many want it to be true.
Then there are those for whom it really does lead to the land of milk and honey. The John Prescotts of this world; talentless, lazy and greedy. Honest labour in the competitive market would never make them rich or powerful, but dishonest adherence to Labour just might. And our John, repulsive though the man is, is by no means the worst. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Hitler and thousands of others, including the employees of all trade unions, leftist think tanks, equality commissions, state broadcasters and most of Western academia have lived parasitically on those who dream of a gentler life than that offered by the cruel gods of the market. Not to mention the hypocrites writing for The Guardian from their Tuscan villas.
They do so, without exception, by promoting hatred of "the other". For National Socialists, other races and for International Socialists, other classes. Socialism is a hate doctrine, which partly accounts for its success. Your misfortunes and failures are the fault of wicked "others" and nothing really to do with you. This appeals to the darker vices that grow in those who begin with the entry vice of envy. Like the poor, misguided father of a murdered WPC in Manchester crying for policemen to be able to "shoot people on sight", humans crave a dark and vengeful deliverer from evil. The Old Testament God, Dirty Harry or the Dark Knight of Gotham all speak to the same wicked urge from the dark recesses of the human soul as Hitler, Stalin or Mao.
This hypocrisy is why one unguarded remark by an American Conservative about prioritising the interests of the productive over the rest makes him unelectable, whereas the consistent hypocrisy of wealthy "socialists" passes off as the merest aberration. Not just old "two Jags" but the likes of Diane Abbott, for whose children the crap schools she foists on others are not nearly good enough. Or Tony Blair. Working for the businesses built by the great bandit clans of Morgan and Rockefeller seems to give rise to no more socialist qualms in him than did the abduction, rape and murder of the daughters of Moscow workers in Beria. Why is this behaviour so consistent in those who denounce the avarice of those driven by market forces? Could it be, perhaps, because they seek power for their own greedy ends, rather than - as advertised - for the greater good? At university Blair dreamed qualmlessly of wealth and fame as a rock star. Lacking the talent he went in for "show business for ugly people" instead.
There is an undoubted synergy between the masses' dreams of an uncompetitive existence and their socialist leaders' dreams of something similar at their expense. All this may account for Socialism's survival but not, I think for its political success. That, I will try to account for in another post soon.