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SOCIALISM
THE FAILED IDEA THAT NEVER
DIES
DR KRISTIAN NIEMIETZ
HEAD OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, IEA
Kristian Niemietz: Socialism: The failed idea that never dies
Kristian Niemietz: Socialism: The failed idea that never dies
“COMMUNISM COULD HAVE WORKED IF
IT HAD BEEN BETTER EXECUTED.”
-Number Crunch
Politics (2018)
0
10
20
30
40
50
18-24 25-34 35-44
Agree Disagree Neither/Don't know
“DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURABLE OR AN
UNFAVOURABLE OPINION OF SOCIALISM?”
0
10
20
30
40
50
18-24 25-49 50-65
Favourable Unfavourable Not sure
-YouGov (2016)
% WITH A FAVOURABLE OPINION OF
SOCIALISM/COMMUNISM/MARXISM
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
Generation Z Millennials Generation X Boomers
Socialism Communism -Victims of Communism Foundation
&
% WHO ARE LIKELY TO VOTE FOR A
CANDIDATE WHO SELF-IDENTIFIES AS A
SOCIALIST
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
Generation Z Millennials Generation X Boomers
-Victims of Communism
Foundation &
SOCIALISM SELLS
THE MEDIA HYPE AROUND SOCIALISM
Kristian Niemietz: Socialism: The failed idea that never dies
SOCIALISM ≠ SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
• “[S]ocial democracy […] left capital structurally dominant. […]
[C]apitalists were able to hold democratic governments hostage
[…] Social democracy is a step in the right direction, then, but
ultimately not enough”
• Bhaskar Sunkara (DSA & Jacobin), ‘The Socialist Manifesto’
• “Today, the radical left […] is calling not for social democracy
but for democratic socialism. […] [T]he former means the
taxation and regulation of private enterprise, while the latter
means the democratic ownership of most large corporations
and financial institutions.”
NEVER BEEN TRIED?
• “There hasn’t been a shred of socialism in the Soviet
Union.”
• Noam Chomsky
• “A socialist society […] doesn’t exist yet”
• Owen Jones
• “While it is true that a number of political projects
have labelled themselves communist […] the
aspiration was [not] accurate”
• Aaron Bastani
THE SOVIET UNION
“We may perhaps sum up the
Constitution of the U.S.S.R. by
emphasizing its reliance on the
widest possible participation of the
whole adult population in the
public business, which includes
the planned control of the
whole social environment [...]
“[E]veryone acted as though the
general good was his personal
good […]
[I]n America, […] the worker […]
had no real voice in the
management of the national
economy […] Here the “average
man” felt himself master of
“[F]or the first time in history
the common man feels that the
country belongs to him and not
the privileged class that are his
masters. […] [T]he Marxian ideal
of a classless society […] has
been realized”
“Those workers up there,
carelessly dressed, coatless and
collarless […] those workers,
and men like them are running
the new Russia”
Corliss Lamont, American philosopher
“…talking and laughing as they
worked, evidently enjoying
themselves. […]
It was difficult to believe that this
was indeed a prison”
-Mary Callcott Stevenson,
American author
“In England a delinquent enters
[prison] as an ordinary man and
comes out a ‘criminal type’,
whereas in Russia he enters […] as
a criminal type and would come out
an ordinary man but for the
difficulty of inducing them to come
out at all.”
MAOIST CHINA
“The people seem healthy, well fed and
articulate about their role as citizens of
Chairman Mao’s new China […]
The Maoist revolution is on the whole
the best thing that happened to the
Chinese people in centuries.”
-John Fairbank, American historian
“[T]hey are not free to change
residence or job, but in spite of that
[…] the Chinese masses seem to enjoy
a greater measure of control over
those agencies that directly affect their
daily lives than do most Western city
workers”
-Arthur Galston, American scientist and bioethicist
“[The certainty of success […]
dominates the Chinese mood today.
Their accomplishments assume
dreamlike proportions in the cold light
of an American day. They virtually have
eliminated many […] social problems”
-Carol Tavris, American social psychologist
“There is no trace of alienation in
China, nor of those neuroses or that
inner disintegration of the individual
found in the parts of the world
dominated by consumerism. The
Chinese world is compact, integrated,
an absolute whole.”
-Maria Macciocchi, Italian journalist & politician
“[The regime is] authoritarian only
towards a minority – a minority
who are not workers or peasants.
[…]
China’s successes are being
achieved […] by the voluntary and
even enthusiastic effort of most of
the people”
“It was not hard […] to
understand the deep affection
men feel for this man […] All
men – intellectuals, peasants,
merchants – regard Mao as the
symbol of their deliverance, the
man who […] raised their
burdens”
•“[L]ife in China today is
exceptionally pleasant. […]
Plenty of fond dreams are
authorized by the idea of a
country […] where generals and
statesmen are scholars and
poets”
“A revolutionary regime must get rid of
a certain number of individuals that
threaten it and I see no other means
for this than death; it is always
possible to get out of a prison”
-Jean Paul Sartre
Kristian Niemietz: Socialism: The failed idea that never dies
NORTH KOREA
“All the economic miracles of the
postwar world are put in the shade by
these achievements […]
The outward signs of a "cult" are very
marked […] But Prime Minister Kim II
Sung seems to function as a messiah
rather than a dictator”
“Here in Korea we have found a people
who have laid the foundations of
communism and who are now rushing […]
to transform their society into an earthly
paradise […]
[W]e will tell the American people of the
glorious victories of […] socialist
revolution”
“…a decent society in which equality of
goods, services and opportunities
prevails. […] [E]veryone enjoys a
certain richness of life. […]
a society which is democratic in the
ultimate meaning of the word –
economic and social democracy which
can only emanate from the end of
“The realisation that
everything belongs to
everyone is truly
overwhelming; and the
experience that money really
plays no role puts the
CAMBODIA UNDER THE
KHMER ROUGE
“[T]he people rose, freed themselves,
threw out the intruders […] and began
to clear up the mess. […] Then
crocodile tears poured forth in the
West. The brothel has been emptied
and the clean-up is in progress. Only
pimps can regret what is happening.”
-Per Olov Enquist, Swedish author and journalist
-
“City dwellers who once lived in villas
with servants do find the food a bit
meager. But the co-operative
guarantees food for all. […]
[T]he new society […] turn the dreams
of a poor peasant into reality”
-Jan Myrdal, Swedish author
“We had learned already about all
these achievements […] but it was
even more illuminating to see [them]
with our own eyes […]
[A] people who rely on their own
strength and means can score
wonderful feats.”
-Gunnar Bergström, Swedish activist
“[A]nalyses by highly qualified
specialists who have studied the full
range of evidence available […]
concluded that executions have
numbered at most in the thousands
[…]
These reports also emphasize […]
repeated discoveries that massacre
“[A]part from the execution of high-
ranking army officers and officials, the
killing […] was instigated by untrained
and vengeful local Khmer Rouge
soldiers, despite orders to the contrary
from Phnom Penh. […] Most of the
brutality shown by local Khmer Rouge
soldiers is attributable to lack of
training”
“[O]nly the most serious
criminals were executed”
-Malcolm Caldwell, lecturer at the
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
VENEZUELA
•“Venezuela is an inspiration to the
world, it really does show that there is
an alternative.”
•“Under Chávez, the poor have become
a political power that cannot be
ignored […] [H]e has proved it is
possible to […] [break] with neo-
liberal dogma.”
“Venezuela and its Latin
American allies have
demonstrated that it’s no longer
necessary to accept a failed
economic model, as many social
democrats in Europe still do.”
-Seumas Milne
“Chavez […] showed us
that there is a different,
and a better way of doing
things. It’s called
socialism”
-Jeremy Corbyn
“Venezuela is seriously conquering
poverty by emphatically rejecting
[…] Neo Liberal policies […]
As with Cuba the threat to the USA
by Venezuela is […] a threat by
example of what social justice can
achieve.”
-Jeremy Corbyn
“[W]hat’s so exciting about
[…] Venezuela is that I can
see how a better world is
being created […]
The transformations that
Venezuela is making
toward the creation of
another socio-economic
model could have a global
impact.”
-Noam Chomsky (2007)
“I never described
Chávez’s state
capitalist government
as ‘socialist’ or even
hinted at such an
absurdity. It was quite
remote from
socialism.”
-Noam Chomsky
(2017)
“[Chávez] lit a spark
that really started a
firebrand […]
Venezuela and the
Bolivarian Revolution
became an item on the
agenda for all socialists
[…] [H]ere you had the
contrast between
capitalism in crisis, and
socialism in action”
“I don’t think
[Venezuela] is a
socialist country. […] I
don’t think they have
been following […]
socialist policies […]
And as a result of that
they’re experiencing
problems.”
-John McDonnell (2018)
THE THREE STAGES OF SOCIALISM
The honeymoon
period
The denial-and-
whataboutery
period
The not-REAL-
socialism period
WHY SOCIALISM FAILS IN THE ECONOMIC
SPHERE
• Market prices collect and disseminate dispersed knowledge
• Competition = trial and error
• Exit > voice
WHY SOCIALISM LEADS TO
AUTHORITARIANISM
• Conflict between central planning and local autonomy
• No exit option
• Everything is everyone else’s business
WHY SOCIALISM IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH
DEMOCRACY
• Socialist planners handle colossal amounts of highly technical
information
• Even today: limits to democratic engagement
• Even today: limits to democratic accountability
WHY SOCIALISM NONETHELESS REFUSES TO
DIE
• Socialism makes intuitive sense
• Socialism is trendy and high-status
• Socialist define ‘real’ socialism in terms of outcomes, not
inputs
• Socialists treat unpleasant outcomes of socialism as merely a
matter of choice
WHO SAID
IT?
• "[C]ontrol by society [...] over [...] labor and
[...] consumption [...] must be exercised not
by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of
armed workers.“
• "Instead of the special institutions of a
privileged officialdom [...], the majority
itself can directly fulfil all [the functions of
state power], and the more [these
functions] are performed by the people as a
whole, the less need there is for the
existence of this power.“
• "[I]t is quite possible, after the overthrow of
the capitalists and the bureaucrats, to
proceed immediately, overnight, to replace
them in the control over production and
distribution [...] by the armed workers, by
WHO SAID
IT?
• "[C]ontrol by society [...] over [...] labor and
[...] consumption [...] must be exercised not
by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of
armed workers.“
• "Instead of the special institutions of a
privileged officialdom [...], the majority
itself can directly fulfil all [the functions of
state power], and the more [these
functions] are performed by the people as a
whole, the less need there is for the
existence of this power.“
• "[I]t is quite possible, after the overthrow of
the capitalists and the bureaucrats, to
proceed immediately, overnight, to replace
them in the control over production and
distribution [...] by the armed workers, by

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Kristian Niemietz: Socialism: The failed idea that never dies

  • 1. SOCIALISM THE FAILED IDEA THAT NEVER DIES DR KRISTIAN NIEMIETZ HEAD OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, IEA
  • 4. “COMMUNISM COULD HAVE WORKED IF IT HAD BEEN BETTER EXECUTED.” -Number Crunch Politics (2018) 0 10 20 30 40 50 18-24 25-34 35-44 Agree Disagree Neither/Don't know
  • 5. “DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURABLE OR AN UNFAVOURABLE OPINION OF SOCIALISM?” 0 10 20 30 40 50 18-24 25-49 50-65 Favourable Unfavourable Not sure -YouGov (2016)
  • 6. % WITH A FAVOURABLE OPINION OF SOCIALISM/COMMUNISM/MARXISM 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 Generation Z Millennials Generation X Boomers Socialism Communism -Victims of Communism Foundation &
  • 7. % WHO ARE LIKELY TO VOTE FOR A CANDIDATE WHO SELF-IDENTIFIES AS A SOCIALIST 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% Generation Z Millennials Generation X Boomers -Victims of Communism Foundation &
  • 9. THE MEDIA HYPE AROUND SOCIALISM
  • 11. SOCIALISM ≠ SOCIAL DEMOCRACY • “[S]ocial democracy […] left capital structurally dominant. […] [C]apitalists were able to hold democratic governments hostage […] Social democracy is a step in the right direction, then, but ultimately not enough” • Bhaskar Sunkara (DSA & Jacobin), ‘The Socialist Manifesto’ • “Today, the radical left […] is calling not for social democracy but for democratic socialism. […] [T]he former means the taxation and regulation of private enterprise, while the latter means the democratic ownership of most large corporations and financial institutions.”
  • 12. NEVER BEEN TRIED? • “There hasn’t been a shred of socialism in the Soviet Union.” • Noam Chomsky • “A socialist society […] doesn’t exist yet” • Owen Jones • “While it is true that a number of political projects have labelled themselves communist […] the aspiration was [not] accurate” • Aaron Bastani
  • 14. “We may perhaps sum up the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. by emphasizing its reliance on the widest possible participation of the whole adult population in the public business, which includes the planned control of the whole social environment [...]
  • 15. “[E]veryone acted as though the general good was his personal good […] [I]n America, […] the worker […] had no real voice in the management of the national economy […] Here the “average man” felt himself master of
  • 16. “[F]or the first time in history the common man feels that the country belongs to him and not the privileged class that are his masters. […] [T]he Marxian ideal of a classless society […] has been realized”
  • 17. “Those workers up there, carelessly dressed, coatless and collarless […] those workers, and men like them are running the new Russia” Corliss Lamont, American philosopher
  • 18. “…talking and laughing as they worked, evidently enjoying themselves. […] It was difficult to believe that this was indeed a prison” -Mary Callcott Stevenson, American author
  • 19. “In England a delinquent enters [prison] as an ordinary man and comes out a ‘criminal type’, whereas in Russia he enters […] as a criminal type and would come out an ordinary man but for the difficulty of inducing them to come out at all.”
  • 21. “The people seem healthy, well fed and articulate about their role as citizens of Chairman Mao’s new China […] The Maoist revolution is on the whole the best thing that happened to the Chinese people in centuries.” -John Fairbank, American historian
  • 22. “[T]hey are not free to change residence or job, but in spite of that […] the Chinese masses seem to enjoy a greater measure of control over those agencies that directly affect their daily lives than do most Western city workers” -Arthur Galston, American scientist and bioethicist
  • 23. “[The certainty of success […] dominates the Chinese mood today. Their accomplishments assume dreamlike proportions in the cold light of an American day. They virtually have eliminated many […] social problems” -Carol Tavris, American social psychologist
  • 24. “There is no trace of alienation in China, nor of those neuroses or that inner disintegration of the individual found in the parts of the world dominated by consumerism. The Chinese world is compact, integrated, an absolute whole.” -Maria Macciocchi, Italian journalist & politician
  • 25. “[The regime is] authoritarian only towards a minority – a minority who are not workers or peasants. […] China’s successes are being achieved […] by the voluntary and even enthusiastic effort of most of the people”
  • 26. “It was not hard […] to understand the deep affection men feel for this man […] All men – intellectuals, peasants, merchants – regard Mao as the symbol of their deliverance, the man who […] raised their burdens”
  • 27. •“[L]ife in China today is exceptionally pleasant. […] Plenty of fond dreams are authorized by the idea of a country […] where generals and statesmen are scholars and poets”
  • 28. “A revolutionary regime must get rid of a certain number of individuals that threaten it and I see no other means for this than death; it is always possible to get out of a prison” -Jean Paul Sartre
  • 31. “All the economic miracles of the postwar world are put in the shade by these achievements […] The outward signs of a "cult" are very marked […] But Prime Minister Kim II Sung seems to function as a messiah rather than a dictator”
  • 32. “Here in Korea we have found a people who have laid the foundations of communism and who are now rushing […] to transform their society into an earthly paradise […] [W]e will tell the American people of the glorious victories of […] socialist revolution”
  • 33. “…a decent society in which equality of goods, services and opportunities prevails. […] [E]veryone enjoys a certain richness of life. […] a society which is democratic in the ultimate meaning of the word – economic and social democracy which can only emanate from the end of
  • 34. “The realisation that everything belongs to everyone is truly overwhelming; and the experience that money really plays no role puts the
  • 36. “[T]he people rose, freed themselves, threw out the intruders […] and began to clear up the mess. […] Then crocodile tears poured forth in the West. The brothel has been emptied and the clean-up is in progress. Only pimps can regret what is happening.” -Per Olov Enquist, Swedish author and journalist -
  • 37. “City dwellers who once lived in villas with servants do find the food a bit meager. But the co-operative guarantees food for all. […] [T]he new society […] turn the dreams of a poor peasant into reality” -Jan Myrdal, Swedish author
  • 38. “We had learned already about all these achievements […] but it was even more illuminating to see [them] with our own eyes […] [A] people who rely on their own strength and means can score wonderful feats.” -Gunnar Bergström, Swedish activist
  • 39. “[A]nalyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available […] concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands […] These reports also emphasize […] repeated discoveries that massacre
  • 40. “[A]part from the execution of high- ranking army officers and officials, the killing […] was instigated by untrained and vengeful local Khmer Rouge soldiers, despite orders to the contrary from Phnom Penh. […] Most of the brutality shown by local Khmer Rouge soldiers is attributable to lack of training”
  • 41. “[O]nly the most serious criminals were executed” -Malcolm Caldwell, lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  • 43. •“Venezuela is an inspiration to the world, it really does show that there is an alternative.” •“Under Chávez, the poor have become a political power that cannot be ignored […] [H]e has proved it is possible to […] [break] with neo- liberal dogma.”
  • 44. “Venezuela and its Latin American allies have demonstrated that it’s no longer necessary to accept a failed economic model, as many social democrats in Europe still do.” -Seumas Milne
  • 45. “Chavez […] showed us that there is a different, and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism” -Jeremy Corbyn
  • 46. “Venezuela is seriously conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting […] Neo Liberal policies […] As with Cuba the threat to the USA by Venezuela is […] a threat by example of what social justice can achieve.” -Jeremy Corbyn
  • 47. “[W]hat’s so exciting about […] Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created […] The transformations that Venezuela is making toward the creation of another socio-economic model could have a global impact.” -Noam Chomsky (2007) “I never described Chávez’s state capitalist government as ‘socialist’ or even hinted at such an absurdity. It was quite remote from socialism.” -Noam Chomsky (2017)
  • 48. “[Chávez] lit a spark that really started a firebrand […] Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution became an item on the agenda for all socialists […] [H]ere you had the contrast between capitalism in crisis, and socialism in action” “I don’t think [Venezuela] is a socialist country. […] I don’t think they have been following […] socialist policies […] And as a result of that they’re experiencing problems.” -John McDonnell (2018)
  • 49. THE THREE STAGES OF SOCIALISM The honeymoon period The denial-and- whataboutery period The not-REAL- socialism period
  • 50. WHY SOCIALISM FAILS IN THE ECONOMIC SPHERE • Market prices collect and disseminate dispersed knowledge • Competition = trial and error • Exit > voice
  • 51. WHY SOCIALISM LEADS TO AUTHORITARIANISM • Conflict between central planning and local autonomy • No exit option • Everything is everyone else’s business
  • 52. WHY SOCIALISM IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH DEMOCRACY • Socialist planners handle colossal amounts of highly technical information • Even today: limits to democratic engagement • Even today: limits to democratic accountability
  • 53. WHY SOCIALISM NONETHELESS REFUSES TO DIE • Socialism makes intuitive sense • Socialism is trendy and high-status • Socialist define ‘real’ socialism in terms of outcomes, not inputs • Socialists treat unpleasant outcomes of socialism as merely a matter of choice
  • 54. WHO SAID IT? • "[C]ontrol by society [...] over [...] labor and [...] consumption [...] must be exercised not by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of armed workers.“ • "Instead of the special institutions of a privileged officialdom [...], the majority itself can directly fulfil all [the functions of state power], and the more [these functions] are performed by the people as a whole, the less need there is for the existence of this power.“ • "[I]t is quite possible, after the overthrow of the capitalists and the bureaucrats, to proceed immediately, overnight, to replace them in the control over production and distribution [...] by the armed workers, by
  • 55. WHO SAID IT? • "[C]ontrol by society [...] over [...] labor and [...] consumption [...] must be exercised not by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of armed workers.“ • "Instead of the special institutions of a privileged officialdom [...], the majority itself can directly fulfil all [the functions of state power], and the more [these functions] are performed by the people as a whole, the less need there is for the existence of this power.“ • "[I]t is quite possible, after the overthrow of the capitalists and the bureaucrats, to proceed immediately, overnight, to replace them in the control over production and distribution [...] by the armed workers, by