It Can Happen Fast: Socialism and Crisis

Crises have a tendency to turn what we thought was unthinkable into the inevitable. Socialism loves a political crisis, and there is no denying that we are in one.

Could the U.S. ever really go from a thriving free market system to a socialist county? Seems unthinkable. But not if you ask a democratic socialist. Seems inevitable.

Don’t forget – Vladimir Lenin took advantage of a crisis.

In 1903 and 1904, Lenin was a bookworm floating around Western Europe, eating boiled potatoes, being friendly to his landlady’s cats, and stressing out about how his “comrades” read Marx. Although he called his followers “Bolsheviks,” or majoritarians, less than 10,000 Russian intellectuals were affiliated with the party at its peacetime peak; they were not even a majority of Russian left-wing intellectuals abroad.

Then came WWI, economic distress in Russian cities, and some well-timed funds from German spymasters. Lenin seized control of his country with a few “hard men” in 1917. The historian Richard Pipes concludes, “Communism thus did not come to Russia as the result of a popular uprising: it was imposed on her from above by a small minority hiding behind democratic slogans.”1

International socialism made a breakthrough in one of the many crises surrounding the First World War; it changed its spots and threatened to make another breakthrough during the Second World War.

Soldiers fighting in the Second World War were reluctant to return to the Great Depression years, and Labour Party politicians in Britain promised that the centrally planned war economy would not go away. The war was a crisis that made more government intervention in the economy necessary. However, in The Road to Serfdom, F. A. Hayek argued this did not make socialist economies able to adapt to continuous changes in peacetime, the way market economies could.2 Instead, this kind of collectivism would simply generate the same kind of dictatorial leaders that started the war in the first place.

Today we are not in a war, but the government undertook an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus as the country locked down against the COVID-19 pandemic: directly distributing relief checks to individual Americans, imposing a moratorium on various kinds of debt collection, and providing forgivable loans for businesses to meet payroll.

Like their predecessors in the British Labour Party, democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argue that we cannot go back to the free market economy after the CARES Act. In past years, proposals for a “Green New Deal” or “Medicare for All” might have sounded like continuous, gradual developments of programs from the 1930s or the 1950s, but the new arguments for them are revealing—if history is any guide. Hayek and the lessons of_
_Road to Serfdom are as relevant as ever.

Socialists do not want modest improvements to the welfare state. Once again, we are witnessing a revolutionary attempt to take advantage of a crisis to introduce socialism.

Endnotes:

1. Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 39.

2. F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, ed. Bruce Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 214.