By Hugo Newman
It’s a familiar scene. A socialist and a critic of socialism are engaged in heated debate. The critic invariably raises what the socialist considers a hackneyed and lazy objection: “Well what about what happened in the Soviet Union? Or in Maoist China? Those were socialist states. Are you really endorsing such systems? Don’t they prove that socialism doesn’t work?”
The socialist scoffs, shakes his head dismissively, and rehearses his own correspondingly hackneyed reply:
No. Those weren’t really socialist states. They were socialist in name only. In fact, they were just co-opted by corrupt forces from within or compromised by destabilizing environmental and/or economic conditions, or pre-empted by reactionary forces from without… or some combination of the three.
What happens next is usually that the debate descends into irreconcilable disagreements about what really happened in Russia in the 1920s, empirical claims and counter-claims that are virtually impossible to verify on the spot one way or the other, and, eventually, the debate ends at an impasse. Both parties return to their ideological priors and walk away convinced that their own position has not been refuted and that the opponent’s position remains thoroughly provisional and unconvincing.
I’ve observed this socialist rebuttal countless times (a few examples here, here and here), and I find it exasperating. I know the dynamic intimately because I myself used to be the socialist in the debate. When an opponent would raise several historical cases of nominally socialist states, I would cleave to the above line of resistance: those were all botched attempts, imperfect revolutions that went off the rails for whatever incidental reason. In the end, those regimes all ended up as totalitarian dictatorships in one form or another, presiding over, at best, a stagnating economy. But socialism, my socialism, was deeply democratic, deeply anti-authoritarian, and deeply committed to economic advancement. And so no matter how many such historical cases were brought before me, I knew I could always ultimately deflect them by retreating to the safe haven of the ideal definition.
I find it exasperating because I can see now, having since become entirely convinced of socialism’s untenability, how and why I could have blissfully persisted in the above mode of thinking and “arguing.” And, more importantly, I can see how and why the standard arguments against socialism were so thoroughly unconvincing to me.
Read the original article here: FEE