Socialism By Default
[Reprinted from One Is A Crowd, published by
Devin-Adair Co., New York, 1952]
WHEN YOU EXAMINE samples of the anti-socialistic literature which is
flooding the country, you realize why socialism, despite its
irrationality, is gaining common acceptance. If these booklets and "letters"
were designed to aid the collectivistic cause they could not do a
Taken as a whole, this literature can be catalogued as "Swell
Country; no change wanted." It is reminiscent of Harding's
normalcy, or of Hoover's chicken in every pot, to say nothing of two
cars in every garage. The "1ine" is to blow up economic
half-truths flattering to the status quo, with the hope that such
evidence will squelch the socialistic indictment of it. This
literature is more than futile. It must boomerang, simply because it
dodges facts that are as well-known as they are unsavory.
If the run-of-the-mill American is as gullible as this literature
assumes, and there is reason to believe that he is, there are
nevertheless the lessons of experience which even infantilism cannot
dull. Imagine feeding rags-to-riches syrup to the sharecropper who
remembers being dispossessed onto the highway, or to his children who
learned to hold out the hand of beggary. Then, there's the glorious
tale of the penniless immigrant who rose to affluence; what can be the
effect of this pap on the fellow who lived by the grace of the W. P.
A. when bank bankruptcy wiped out his lifetime savings? What goes on
in the mind 0£ the mechanic who, on reading about the "overall
picture" of national prosperity, or the tables of comparative
wages, recalls the ten years of wage-less nightmare, until the war
brought hypodermic relief? Even now, dulling the enjoyment of his
inflationary comfort is the spectre of impending depression.
All this experience the anti-socialistic literature passes over
lightly with figures, carried out to three percentage points. The
inference is plain that the "poor ye have always" -- and
nothing can be done about it. It's fine solace to be labeled an "unemployable"
or to be put among the "surplus population."
But somehow the lowliest of the species resents being a statistic. He
flatters himself that he is a man. Whatever his intellectual
deficiencies, his sense perceptions are keen; recorded in the memory
of his belly is data the economists cannot get to. And that memory
tells him that there is a lie somewhere in the pollyannish picture of
America being presented to him.
The Unanswered Why
Sure, there are more opportunities for self-betterment in this
country than in other countries. Telling him about it is merely
rubbing in the fact that maybe he hasn't got what it takes, and that
isn't soothing. He knows there will always be a Babe Ruth, a champion.
Well, all he asks of life is a steady job as bat-boy in the bush
leagues, and he hasn't found even that modest ideal always attainable.
Why? If this is such a great country -- why? Observation tells him
that many of those who rise above the ruck do so by other means than
industry and thrift. There's the rag-picker made into a merchant by
the black market; the town ne'er-do-well who attached himself to a
political mogul and became a cigar-smoking contractor; the arrogant
and opulent union leader who was the most inefficient worker in the
shop; the newsboy who somehow got licenses for the best spots in town
and now mingles with the "best people." And how about the
fellows who finance these "God Bless America" pamphlets?
What's their racket?
Sure, the "average" wage in this country is a princely
income compared to that of the Chinese coolie. What of it? The "average
American worker -- whatever that is -- produces more; well, if he
produces more he is entitled to more, and why give credit to a "system"
for the labor he puts out? According to the figures in this
anti-socialistic literature he absorbs in wages about all he produces,
and yet his eyes tell him that there are a lot of fellows who produce
nothing, or very little, and they seem to get along quite well. Who
produces what they have? He's envious, to be sure, but he's also
sensitive to a wrong he cannot locate.
The socialists locate it for him. He never will understand their
many-worded fable about surplus-value and the class-struggle and the
glories of controlled economy. No matter. These fellows at least come
clean; they admit the poverty-amidst-plenty incongruity, and in so
doing they gain the confidence of the mass-man. Having gained his
confidence, they find it easy to "teach" him the mysteries
of their solution. Their shibboleths are plausible; they "explain"
and they promise. He accepts their leadership.
The let-well-enough school, on the other hand, loses his confidence
right from the start by denying the obvious. Their encomiums of the
going order are suspect. Their arguments don't ring true, and their
figures add up to a sum that doesn't square with experience. Hence,
the lavishly sponsored literature of the anti-socialist camp, if it is
read at all, 'meets with a contemptuous "so what?"
Leaders Who Lead Nowhere
It is not, however, the inadequacy of the literature that spells the
doom of private property, but the inadequacy of the would-be
anti-socialistic leadership behind it. It is inane, stupid, ignorant
and, above all, lacking in integrity. With such leadership the case
for private property is lost.
Let us admit that in the shaping of social and political trends the
mass-man is a passive factor. He serves only as a battering ram in the
hands of the leaders he attaches himself to. Since that is the limit
of his capacity, his inclination is to stick to the job of keeping
himself and his race alive; if he ventures beyond that sphere, as in
voting, it is for the exhilaration his otherwise drab life demands.
Such opinions as he entertains, or can entertain, he acquires in
pre-digested and packaged form. He must have leaders to think for him.
Yet, because of the vanity which always accompanies mediocrity, the
leadership he accepts must flatter his importance, must cater to his
ego. Nor can this leadership be effective if it lies to him about what
he knows, however it may lie to him about what he does not know.
This fact the socialistic tacticians have been wise enough to
recognize. From Marx and Engels to Attlee and Wallace, due homage was
always given to the "will of' the people," although the
shaping and direction of that will has ever been the private
prerogative of the intelligentsia, the leadership. They won the
mass-man by appealing to the intelligence they knew he did not have;
in the name of education they filled him with phrases which served him
well enough for understanding. But -- and this is of utmost importance
-- he became a willing "student" because they told him what
he knew only too well: that the world as is is NOT the best of all
Socialism has come a long way, then, because of competent leadership.
The proponents of private property, on the other hand, have fought a'
losing game simply because of their ineptitude. The logic of economics
is entirely on their side: it is only through private property that
society can achieve abundance. Morality is also on their side: if a
man is denied exclusive possession and enjoyment of that which he
produces he is denied the right to life, and is in effect reduced to
something less than a man. With these two arguments in its arsenal,
private property should never have been put on the defensive. The
collectivistic psychopaths should never have gained ascendancy with
But, the cause of private property has been championed by men who had
no interest in it; their main concern has always been with the
institution of privilege which has grown up alongside private
property. They start by defining private property as anything that can
be got by law; hence, they put their cunning to the control of the
law-making machinery, so that the emerging laws enable them to profit
at the expense of producers. They talk about the benefits of
competition and work toward monopolistic practices. They extol
individual initiative and support legal limitations on individuals who
might challenge their ascendancy. In short, they are for the State,
the enemy of private property, because they profit by its schemes.
Their Only objection to the State is its inclination to invade their
privileged position or to extend privileges to other groups.
The Unassailed Citadels
It is what this literature does not advocate that stamps it for what
it is. A few examples will suffice.
The current slogan of this effort to forestall Socialism is "free
enterprise." Now, enterprise consists of nothing else, in the
economic field, than the production and exchange of goods and
services, by individuals acting in their own interests, and it is free
only when the process is rid of legal interventions. The ultimate
object is to provide an abundance of the things men want; to flood the
marketplace. That means low prices, or prices determined by the
equation of supply and demand without restrictions on supply. If that
is what the "free enterprisers were really for, they would
concentrate on the rescinding of laws making for scarcities -- and
they would inform the mass-man that the cause for his lack (admitting
first that there is an unwarranted lack) are these laws and the
practices that have grown up under them.
First of all, they would direct attention to the scarcities resulting
from tariffs, quotas, the manipulation of money, fictitious quarantine
laws and other devices for preventing foreign goods from reaching our
market. You see nothing about that in their literature. The inference
is that free trade is not included in their concept of free
enterprise. Why? Is it because of a concern for the higher prices
which this limitation on competition affords them?
Taxation is a major interference with enterprise, simply because what
is taken by the State is production which was intended for the market.
Taxes on commodities are added to price and therefore decrease the
purchasing power of wages; taxes on incomes and inheritances
discourage production. These facts are rarely mentioned in any of the
"free enterprise" literature; when it does touch on taxation
the comment is limited to "equitable" distribution, which,
on examination, simmers down to the shifting of the burden from one
class of citizens to another. The reason is clear. You cannot expect
the holders of government bonds to attack the income tax (which is the
necessary precursor of State capitalism), because the prime security
behind these bonds is the power of the State to levy on incomes. Nor
can you expect liquor interests to oppose liquor taxes because if
these were abolished every farmer could open a distillery.
You read in this "free enterprise" literature about
government extravagances. But, what about particulars? Subsidies to
railroads, airplane and shipping companies (via the post office) are
clearly extravagances, supporting and encouraging inefficiency; but,
the values of the stocks and bonds issued by these companies are
enhanced thereby and hence the subject is taboo; subsidies which
cannot be capitalized, like handouts to veterans and unemployed, can
be attacked. Parity prices provide a cushion for the commodity market,
and also hold up the value of agricultural land; the "free
enterprisers" avoid the subject. Militarism is undoubtedly the
greatest waste of all, besides being the greatest threat to freedom of
the individual, and yet it is rather condoned than opposed by those
whose hearts bleed for freedom, according to their literature.
One could go on paragraph after paragraph with instances of State
interferences with enterprise which the "free enterprise"
bilge skirts around or ignores. One is driven to the conclusion that
the sponsors are not at all in favor of what they preach. They are
rather for the status quo, for the legal setup by which they can
continue to ''enterprise" themselves into favored position. They
are for privilege, as is, and not for the sanctity of private
Is it any wonder that the only following this kind of leadership can
muster is what it can buy? Is it any wonder that the socialists have
the mass-field to themselves?