The human cost of the great socialist experiment to remake man and humanity for a new collectivist heaven on earth did not come cheap. Historians of the communist experience around the world have estimated that as many as 200 million people—innocent men, women, and children—may have been killed in the socialist meat grinders: 64 million in the Soviet Union and up to 80 million in China, with millions more in the other socialist societies around the global.
Did these sacrifices for that better socialist future pay off? Did it deliver on its promises? In every socialist centrally-planned society, shortages, shoddy goods, and stagnant standards of living enveloped the lives of the vast majority of the citizens of these countries. Anyone who had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union (as I did in its last years) could not help but notice the zombie-like emptiness in the faces of many on the streets of Moscow, as they trudged on foot from one government retail store to another in desperate search for the basic essentials of everyday life. There would be long lines of people at one store waiting to purchase some poor quality consumer item or basic food products. At other government stores, there would be empty shelves with no customers. All of the stores were manned by listless, bored, and indifferent government employees just waiting for their shift to end.
What else could be expected from an economic system that prevented any individual initiative or incentive to work, save, and invest, since private enterprise had been abolished and declared to be the basis of exploitation and injustice? (In the last five years of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had allowed small and limited private business enterprises, and these, however few and restricted, were the only pockets of economic vibrancy.)
The last decade of the 20th century saw the collapse of Marxian socialism in the Soviet Union and the “captive nations” in Eastern Europe that were conquered by Stalin at the end of the Second World War. The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 was followed in the 1980s with economic reforms in China that did not change the political stranglehold the Chinese Communist Party had on the country but introduced a variety of limited and controlled market-based institutional transformations that has brought radical improvements in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Many underdeveloped countries in what used to be called “the third world” turned away from the model of Soviet-style socialist central planning in the 1980s and 1990s and put the people there on paths of more market-oriented material and social betterment. Indeed, in some of these countries, abject poverty and frequent starvation have been nearly eradicated due to the introduction of freer markets and competitive entrepreneurial activity.
But like Dracula rising once more from the grave, socialism has been making a comeback among academics, college and university students, and a growing number of intellectuals. It is reflected most recently in the Democratic Party primary win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who was a Bernie Sanders activist in 2016) over an established Democrat incumbent in a New York City congressional district. She hails herself as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Similar to how Dracula’s friendly and attractive smile was transformed into bloodsucking fangs draining away the life of those initially mesmerized by him, so the Sirens’ call of “free” everything (that, in reality, someone will have to pay for) under the umbrella of “democratic” fairness and justice is soon metamorphosed into a tyranny of politicians, bureaucrats, and “democratic socialists” determined to use the political process to impose their minority petty prescriptions for a better world on all of us. The arena of individual autonomy decreases and the prison walls of collectivist control and command tighten and grow higher around everyone.