Whatever Went Wrong With Socialism?
James L. Busey
[Reprinted from Intermountain Frontier,
Socialism, whether of the moderate social democratic or the extreme
communist variety, at one time threatened to take over the hearts and
minds of reformers and revolutionaries around the world.
What was the central message of socialism, whatever its variety?
It was, that private ownership of the means of production and
distribution (capital) was wrong, that the private profit resulting
from that ownership was the cause of human exploitation; and that
therefore, the "means of production and distribution should be
owned and operated by the people (or workers), for use and not for
Now, the whole socialist movement, including even its most fanatic
versions in the U.S.S.R. and China, seems to be unraveling. In Western
Europe, socialism can hardly be distinguished from general movements
of social concern, of humanitarian interest in the plight of the
workers and the poor. With or without the leadership of conservatives
like Margaret Thatcher, nationalization of factories, banks,
instrumentalities of commerce, trade and transportation has all but
ceased; and in many countries, the dismantling of nationalization is
now under way.
The key to the disintegration of socialism always lay incipient in
its core concept- that "the people" should own and operate
the means of production and distribution.
From a practical, administrative standpoint, there was never any
possibility that any vague concept such as "the people" or "workers"
could own or operate anything. The only instrumentality to carry such
an intent into effect had to be some sort of administrative or
Whether called a commune, or committee, or "dictatorship of the
proletariat", or bureaucracy, or by some other title, it had to
wind up as the same thing-that is, political rulers or a political
class that would administer and thus in fact if not in theory, own the
means of production and distribution.
Socialists would contend that monopolies (meaning private ones only)
tend to be exploitive, tyrannical and inefficient, and so they may
often be; but political monopolies are probably the most exploitive,
tyrannical and inefficient of all. Political monopoly of all or most
of the means of production, including transportation, utilities, and
almost all opportunities for employment, leave citizens with no
recourse, no escape from the misuse and abuse of power.
As is well known, Lord Acton (1834-1902), an advocate of individual
sovereignty and an opponent of all concentrations of power, pointed
out that "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts
It is hard to imagine a power more absolute than that of a political
class in control of all or most of the means of production and
distribution-in addition to their usual control over the making and
enforcement of law.
That is why socialism failed -- in its extreme forms, indeed,
introduced tyrannies exactly the opposite of its noble ideals.