Every generation is liable to make the mistake of exaggerating
the significance of its own era, believing itself destined
to witness a key turning point in history. In fact, radical
changes involving the basic principles of human life happen
once in five hundred or more years. But they do happen, as
did the decline of antiquity and the break with the Middle
Ages. And some generations are fated to live at those times.
It can hardly be doubted that our era is a turning point. In
many of its basic activities mankind has come up against the
fact that further movement along the paths followed hitherto
is impossible and leads into a blind alley. This is true in the
spiritual sphere, in the organization of society, and in the
sphere of industrial production (because of the inconsistency
of the idea of a constantly expanding industrial society). The
generations that come immediately after us must choose new
paths and thus determine history for many centuries to come.
For this reason, problems that appear to be insoluble stand
out with painful clarity, and the dangers which threaten us
yawn blackly ahead. Possible ways out can be seen only
dimly, and the voices which speak about them are diffident
There exists, however, one notion which seems untinged by
doubts or obscurity; a doctrine which points confidently
to the future of mankind — "socialism". At present it is
divided into countless currents, each claiming to be the sole
exponent of socialism and considering the others to be pseudo-socialist.
If we cast aside such narrow partisanship and examine
which countries are headed by governments that have
proclaimed socialism as their aim, we shall see that much of mankind in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin
America has already started to move in that direction.
the rest of the world socialist parties are contending for
power and socialist teachings prevail among young people.
Socialism has become such a force that even the most prominent
politicians are obliged to curry favor with it and the
most weighty philosophers to make obeisances to it.
All the evidence is that man has very little time left to
decide for or against a socialist future. Yet this decision can
determine his fate for the rest of time.
Accordingly, one of
the most urgent questions of our time is what is socialism? What is its origin? What forces does it use? Where is it taking us?
We can judge how far our understanding of the matter has
progressed simply by the number of contradictory answers
that are given to any one of these questions by representatives
of the various socialist movements.
To avoid a multiplicity of
examples we shall adduce just a few opinions concerning the origin of socialism:
(1) As Lenin noted: "When feudalism was overturned and capitalism appeared it was immediately discovered that this "freedom" denoted a new way of oppressing and exploiting the
workers. Various socialist movements at once came into
being as a reflection of this "tyranny" and a protest against the 'tyranny' of capitalism".
(2) "...African societies have always lived by an empirical,
natural socialism, which can be termed instinctive" (African socialist, Dudu Tiam).
(3) "Socialism is a part of the religion of Islam and has been
closely linked with the character of its people ever since that
people existed as nomadic pagans" (Arab socialist, al-Afghani).
What kind of peculiar phenomenon is this, that it can
evoke such different judgments? Is it a collection of unconnected
movements which for some incomprehensible reason insist on sharing one name? Or do they really have something
in common beneath their external variety?
The most basic and obvious questions about socialism do
not seem to have been answered at all; other questions, as
will be seen later, have not even been asked. This ability to
repel rational consideration seems itself to be yet one more
enigmatic characteristic of this enigmatic phenomenon.
In this essay I shall try to consider these questions and
suggest some possible conclusions, using the best-known
sources — the classics of socialism and composite histories.
As a first approach let me try to describe
the general features of present-day socialist states
The most emphatically proclaimed and the
most widely known principle is, of course, the economic one:
socialization of the means of production, nationalization, the various forms of state economic control.
The primacy of economic
demands among the basic principles of socialism is
also emphasized in The Communist Manifesto of Marx and
Engels: ". . . Communists can state their theory in one proposition:
the destruction of private property."
If one considers this by itself, one naturally asks whether
there is any difference in principle between socialism and
capitalism. Isn't socialism just a monopolistic form of capitalism,
isn't it "state capitalism"? Such a doubt can indeed arise
if one concentrates on economics alone, though even in economics
there are many profound differences between capitalism
But in other areas we come up against the
true contradictions in principle between these systems.
Thus, the basis of all modern socialist states is the party, a
new formation which has nothing but the name in common
with the parties of capitalist countries. It is typical of the socialist
states that they try to spread their brand of socialism to
other countries. This tendency has no economic basis and is
harmful for the state, because it usually leads to the
emergence of young and more aggressive rivals in its own
At the bottom of all these differences lies the fact that socialism
is not just an economic system, as is capitalism, but
also — perhaps above all — an ideology. This is the only explanation
for the hatred of [Christian] religion in socialist states, a hatred
which cannot be explained on economic or political grounds.
This hatred appears like a birthmark in all the socialist states,
but with varying degrees of prominence: from the almost
symbolic conflict of the Fascist state in Italy with the Vatican
to the total prohibition of [Christian] religion in Albania and its proclamation
as "the world's first atheist state."
Turning from the socialist states to socialist teachings, we
meet with the same familiar positions: abolition of private
property and hostility toward [Christian] religion. We have already quoted
The Communist Manifesto on the destruction of private
The struggle with [Christian] religion was the point of departure
of Marxism and an indispensable element in the social
reformation of the world. In his article Toward a Critique of
Hegel's "Philosophy of Law" Marx said: ". . . the criticism
of [Christian] religion is the premise for any other form of criticism. . . .
An obvious proof of the German theory's radicalism, and necessarily
of its practical energy, is the fact that it starts by
decisively casting [Christian] religion aside. . . . The emancipation of
the German is the emancipation of mankind.
The brain of
this emancipation is philosophy" (he has the atheistic aspects
of Ludwig Feuerbach's atheism in mind) "and its heart is the proletariat." Sergei Bulgakov, in his work "Karl Marx as a Religious Type",
has shown how militant atheism, Marx's central motivation, gave birth to his historical and social ideas: the ignoring of
the individual and the human personality in the historical
process, "the materialist interpretation of history," and socialism.
This point of view is fully confirmed in the posthumously
published drafts for Marx's book "The Holy Family".
There, Marx regards socialism as the highest level of atheism: if atheism "affirms man through the denial of God," if it
is the "negative affirmation of man," then socialism is "man's
But socialist doctrine includes principles which are not
proclaimed by the socialist states, at least not openly. Thus,
anybody reading The Communist Manifesto with an open
mind will be surprised at the amount of space devoted to the
destruction of the family, to the rearing of children away from
their parents in state schools, to wife-sharing.
In their arguments
with their opponents the authors nowhere renounce
these propositions, but try to prove that these principles are
higher than those on which the bourgeois society of their
time was based. There is no evidence of a subsequent renunciation
of these views.
In modern left-wing movements which are socialist but
not, for the most part, Marxist, the slogan of "sexual revolution," that is, the destruction of traditional family relationships,
also plays a basic part. A clear recent example of
this tendency is the "Red Army," the Trotskyist organization
in Japan, which became famous after a series of murders
committed by it at the beginning of the 1970s.
were mostly members of the organization itself. New
members were supposed to break all family ties and the
murders took place when this rule was ignored. The accusation "he behaved like a husband" was considered to justify a
death sentence. The murder of one partner was often entrusted
to the other. Any children born were taken from their
mothers and given to another woman, who fed them on dried
Common Threads of Collectivism, Across Unconnected States
So, among the principles which are present in many unconnected
socialist states or present-day movements and
which can therefore be attributed to the basic premises of socialism,
(1) The abolition of private property
(2) The destruction
of [Christian] religion
(3) The destruction of the family
appears before us not as a purely economic concept, but as an
incomparably wider system of views, a dogmatic ideology embracing almost every
aspect of human existence.
SOCIALISM IN THE PAST
We may hope to evaluate socialism correctly if we can find
the right scale by which to measure it. With this in mind it is
natural to step back from the perhaps too narrow frame of
contemporaneity, and to consider it in its wider historical
context. This we shall do in relation to socialist states and to
Are socialist states specific to our era, or do they have precedents?
There can be no doubt about the answer: many centuries
and even millennia ago there existed societies which
embodied much more fully and consistently the socialist tendencies which we observe in modern states.
(1) Mesopotamia, 22nd and 21st Centuries B.C.
Mesopotamia was one of the cradles of civilization
where the first states known to historians arose in the
fourth millennium before Christ. They were formed on the
basis of the economies of separate temples, which collected
large masses of peasants and craftsmen around them and developed an intensive agriculture based on irrigation.
the middle of the third millennium, Mesopotamia broke up
into small kingdoms in which the basic economic units remained
the separate temples. Then, the Accadian king Sargon began the era when Mesopotamia was again united in
a single state. I shall summarize some of the facts about the
state which in the twenty-second and twenty-first centuries
united Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Elam. Its capital was Ur, and the whole period is called the era of the Third Dynasty
Archaeologists have found huge quantities of cuneiform
tablets reflecting the economic life of the time. From these
we know that the basis of the economy remained the temple
units, but after the unification they lost all their independence and became cells in a unified state economy.
heads were appointed by the king, they submitted detailed
accounts to the capital, and their work was reviewed by the
king's inspectors. Groups of workers were often transported
from one temple to another.
Agricultural workers, men, women and children, were divided
into parties headed by overseers. They worked all the
year round, moving from one field to another and receiving
seed grain, tools and draft animals from temple and state
stores. Similarly, in groups under a commander, they used to
go to the stores for their food.
The family was not regarded as
an economic unit: provisions were issued not to the head of a
family but to each worker or more often to the commander.
The documents relate separately to men, women, children
and orphans. Evidently there was no question of being allowed
even the use, let alone the ownership, of plots of land
for this category of workers.
The other groups of inhabitants fed themselves by cultivating
the plots set aside for them. Thus there were fields allocated
to individuals, fields for craftsmen and fields for
shepherds. But these fields were worked by the same workers
as the state lands, and the work was supervised by state
The towns contained state workshops, of which the biggest were in the capital, Ur. The workers received tools, raw materials
and half-finished products from the state. The products
of the workshops went into the state warehouses.
Craftsmen, like agricultural workers, were divided into parties
under overseers. Provisions were issued to them by the
state stores on the basis of lists.
Agricultural workers and craftsmen figure in the accounts
as workers of full strength, two-thirds strength, or one-sixth
strength. On this depended the norms for their provisions.
Work norms also existed which determined the scale of the
worker's rations. The temples submitted lists of the dead, the
sick, and of absentees (with reasons). Workers could be transferred
from one field to another, from one workshop to another,
sometimes from one town to another.
workers were sent to assist in the workshops and craftsmen
were sent to work in the fields or haul barges. The bondage
of large classes of the population is highlighted by the numerous
documents concerning fugitives. These documents
name the fugitives and their relatives, and they concern not
only barbers or the sons of shepherds, but also priests and
This picture of the life of the workers opens with
regular statements about the death rate (for the removal of
the dead from food lists). One document declares the percent
mortality among its workers; another, 14 percent; yet
another, 28 percent. Mortality was particularly high among
women and children, who were employed on the heaviest
work, such as hauling.
(2) The Empire of the Incas
This great empire, numbering
several million inhabitants and covering the territory from
present-day Chile to Ecuador, was conquered by Spain in the
sixteenth century. The conquerors have left detailed descriptions
which give an excellent picture of the life which they
could see or learn about from the natives. The descriptions
depict the nature of the social system there so clearly that
even in modern histories of this state, the headings very
often use the term "socialist."
The Inca state did not know private ownership of the
means of production. Most of its inhabitants hardly owned a
thing. Money was unknown. Trade played no perceptible role in the economy.
The basis of the economy, the land, belonged theoretically to the head of the state, the Inca.
That is, it was state property
and the inhabitants only had the use of it. Members of the
governing class, the Incas, owned some land only in the
sense that they received the income from it. The cultivation
of these lands was done by the peasants as a form of service
to the state and was supervised by state officials.
The peasant received for his use a plot of specified size
and additional strips as his family grew. When the peasant
died, all the land reverted to the state. There were two other
large categories of land: that owned directly by the state, and
that owned by the temples. All the land was worked by detachments
of peasants commanded and supervised by officials.
Even the moment to begin work was indicated by a
signal, which consisted of an official blowing a horn from a
tower specially constructed for this purpose.
Peasants also worked as craftsmen. They received raw materials
from state officials and handed their products back to
them. Peasants were also builders, and for this purpose they
were organized into great work brigades of up to twenty
thousand men. Finally, the peasants were liable for military
The whole life of the population was regulated by the
state. For the Inca governing class there existed only one
field of activity, service in the military or civilian bureaucracy,
for which they were trained in closed state schools.
The details of their personal life were controlled by the state.
For instance, an official of a given rank could have a prescribed
number of wives and concubines, a set amount of
gold and silver vessels, and so on.
But the life of the peasant was, of course, much more regimented.
All his activities were prescribed for each period of
his life: between the ages of nine and sixteen he was to be a
shepherd, from sixteen to twenty he had to serve in an Inca's
house, and so on down to old age. Peasant girls could be sent
by the officials to the Incas' houses as servants or concubines,
and they supplied the material for the mass human sacrifices.
Peasant marriages were arranged by an official once a year
according to lists prepared in advance.
The peasants' diet, the size of their huts and their utensils
were all laid down. Special inspectors traveled about the
country to ensure that the peasants observed all these prohibitions
and kept working.
The peasant received his clothing, a cape, from state stores,
and in each province the cape was of a specified color and
could not be dyed or altered. These measures, and the fact
that each province prescribed a distinctive hairstyle, facilitated
surveillance of the population. Peasants were forbidden
to leave their village without the permission of the authorities.
The bridges and town boundaries were guarded by
This whole system was supported by a schedule of punishments
elaborated with striking thoroughness. Almost always
they amounted to the death penalty, which was executed in
an extraordinary variety of ways. The condemned were
thrown into ravines, stoned, hung by the hair or the feet,
thrown into a cave with poisonous snakes. Sometimes, in addition
to this, they were tortured before being killed, and afterward
the body was not allowed to be buried: instead, the
bones were made into flutes and skins used for drums.
These two examples cannot be ignored as isolated paradoxes.
One could quote many others. A hundred and fifty
years after the Spanish conquest of the Incas, for example,
the Jesuits constructed in a remote part of Paraguay a society on analogous principles. Private ownership of the land did
not exist, there was neither trade nor money, and the life of
the Indians was just as strictly controlled by the authorities.
The Old Kingdom of Egypt was close to the Mesopotamian
states both in time and because of its system.
was considered the owner of all the land and gave it only for
temporary use. The peasants were regarded as one of the
products of the land and were always transferred with it.
They had obligations of state service: digging canals, building
pyramids, hauling barges, quarrying and transporting
stone. In the state-owned enterprises craftsmen and workers
received tools and raw materials from the king's stores and
gave their products back to them.
The bureaucracy of scribes
who managed these tasks is compared by Gordon Childe with the "commissars of Soviet Russia."
Childe writes: "Thus
about three thousand years before Christ an economic revolution
not only secured for the Egyptian craftsman his means
of subsistence and his raw material, but also created the conditions
for literacy and learning and gave birth to the State. But the social and economic organization created in Egypt by
Menes and his successors as revolutionaries was centralized
One could cite other examples of societies whose life was
to a significant degree based on socialist principles. But the
ones we have already indicated show sufficiently clearly that
the emergence of socialist states is not the privilege of any
specific era or continent.
The Primitive Nature of Collectivism
It seems that this was the form in
which the state arose: "the world's first socialist states" were
the world's first states of any kind.
If we turn to socialist doctrine, we see a similar picture
here too. These teachings did not arise either in the twentieth
century or the nineteenth; they are more than two thousand
years old. Their history can be divided into three
(1) Socialist notions were well known in antiquity
socialist system, whose influence can be seen in all its countless
variations right up to the present, was created by Plato.
Through Platonism socialist notions penetrated to the Gnostic
sects which surrounded early Christianity, and also to Manichaeism.
In this period the ideas of socialism were propagated
in schools of philosophy and in narrow mystical
(2) In the Middle Ages socialist notions found their way to
In a religious guise they were propagated within
various heretical movements, the Catharists, the Brethren of
the Free Spirit, the Apostolic Brethren, and the Beghards.
They inspired several powerful popular movements, for example,
the Patarenes of fourteenth-century Italy, or the Czech Taborites of the fifteenth century. Their influence was
particularly strong during the Reformation and their traces
can still be seen in the English revolution in the seventeenth
(3) Beginning with the sixteenth century, socialist ideology
took a new direction
It threw off its mystical and religious
form and based itself on a materialistic and rationalist
view of the world. Typical of this was a militantly hostile attitude
to [Christian] religion. The spheres in which socialist notions were
propagated changed yet again: the preachers, who had addressed
themselves to craftsmen and peasants, were replaced
by philosophers and writers who strove to influence the reading
public and the higher strata of society.
came to its peak in the eighteenth century, the "Age of Enlightenment." At the end of that century a new objective
made itself felt, that of bringing socialism out of the salons,
out of the philosopher's study, and into the suburbs, onto the
streets. There followed a renewed attempt to put socialist
ideas behind a mass movement.
In this writer's opinion, neither the nineteenth nor the
twentieth century introduced anything that was new in principle
into the development of socialist ideology.
Let us cite a few illustrations to give an idea of the nature
of socialist teachings and to draw attention to certain features
which will be important in the discussion to follow.
(1) Plato's Republic depicts an ideal social system
Plato's state, power belongs to the philosophers, who govern
the country with the help of warriors known as "guardians".
Plato's main concern was with the way of life of these guardians,
since not only were the philosophers to be chosen from
among them, but they were also to control the rest of the population.
He wanted to subordinate their life completely to the
interests of the state, and to organize it so as to exclude the
possibility of a split and the emergence of conflicting interests.
The first means of achieving this was the abolition of private property. The guardians were to own nothing but their
Their dwellings could be entered by anybody
who wished to. They were to live in the republic like hired
laborers, serving only in return for food and no other reward.
For the same purpose the individual family was also abolished.
All the men and women in the guardian class were to
share their mates with all the others. Instead of marriage
there was to be brief, state-controlled sexual union, for the
purposes of physical satisfaction and the production of perfect
progeny. To this end the philosophers were to yield to
distinguished guardians the right of more frequent sexual
union with the more beautiful women.
Children, from the moment of birth, would not know their
own fathers or even mothers. They were to be cared for communally
by all the women who happened to be lactating, and
the children passed around all the time. And the state would
take care of their subsequent upbringing. At the same time a
special role was assigned to art, which was to be purged
mercilessly in the name of the same goals. A work of art was
considered all the more dangerous, the more perfect it was
from the aesthetic point of view.
The "fables of Hesiod and
Homer" were to be destroyed, and most of classical literature
with them — everything that might suggest the idea that the
gods were imperfect and unjust, that might induce fear or
gloom, or could inculcate disrespect for the authorities. New
myths were to be invented, on the other hand, to develop in
the guardians the necessary civic virtues.
Apart from this ideological supervision, the life of the
guardians was to be biologically controlled as well. This control
began with the careful selection of parents able to provide
the best progeny, and selection was based on the
achievements of agriculture. Children of unions not sanctioned
by the state, like those with physical imperfections,
were to be destroyed. The selection of adults was to be entrusted
to medicine: doctors would treat some patients, allow
others to die, and kill the remainder.
(2) The philosophy of the medieval heretics was based on
the opposition between the spiritual and the material worlds
as two antagonistic and mutually exclusive categories. It
begot hostility toward the whole material world and in particular
to all forms of social life. All these movements rejected
military service, oaths or litigation, personal submission to
ecclesiastical and secular authority, and some rejected marriage
and property. Some movements considered only marriage
a sin, but not adultery, so that this demand did not have
an ascetic character but aimed at the destruction of the family.
Many sects were accused by their contemporaries of "free" or "sacred" love. One contemporary states, for instance,
that the heretics considered that "marital ties contradict
the laws of nature, since these laws demand that
everything should be held in common. - In precisely the
same way, the denial of private property was linked with its
renunciation in favor of the sect, and the common ownership
of property was fostered as an ideal. "In order to make their
teaching more attractive, they introduced common ownership," according to the record of one thirteenth-century trial
of some heretics.
These more radical aspects of the doctrine were usually
communicated only to the elite of the sect, the "perfected," who were sharply set apart from the basic mass of "believers." But in times of social crisis the preachers and apostles
of the sect used to take their socialist notions to the masses. As
a rule these ideas were mingled with calls for the destruction
of the whole existing order and above all of the Catholic
Thus, at the beginning of the thirteenth century in Italy the
Patarene movement, led by preachers from the sect of the
Apostolic Brethren, provoked a bloody three-year war. The
Apostolic Brethren taught that "in love everything must be
held in common — property and wives. Those who joined
the sect had to hand all their property over for common use.
They thought of the Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon
and the pope as Antichrist, and they called for the murder
of the pope, bishops, priests, monks, and of all the godless.
Any action against the enemies of the true faith was proclaimed
to be permissible.
A little over a hundred years later heretical sects dominated
the Taborite movement, whose raids terrorized central
Europe for a quarter of a century. Of them a contemporary
says: "In the Citadel or Tabor there is no Mine or Thine, everybody
uses everything equally: all must hold everything in
common, and nobody must have anything separately, and he
who does is a sinner.
Their preachers taught: "Everything,
including wives, must be held in common. The sons and daughters of God will be free, and there will be no marriage
as a union of just two — man and wife. . . .
and human decisions must be abolished, since none of them
was created by the Heavenly Father. . . . The priests' houses
and all church property must be destroyed: churches, altars
and monasteries must be demolished. . . .
All those who
have been elevated and given power must be bent like the
twigs of trees and cut down, burned in the stove like straw,
leaving not a root nor a shoot, they must be ground like
sheaves, the blood must be drained from them, they must be
killed by scorpions, snakes and wild animals, they must be
put to death.
The great specialist on the history of the heresies, I. von
Dollinger, describes their social principles as follows:
"Every heretical movement that appeared in the Middle
Ages possessed, openly or secretly, a revolutionary character;
in other words, if it had come to power it would have had to
destroy the existing social order and produce a political and
These Gnostic sects, the Catharists and Albigensians,
whose activities evoked severe and implacable
legislation against heresy and were bloodily opposed, were
socialists and communists. They attacked marriage, the family,
These features appeared still more clearly in the heretical
movements after the Reformation, in the sixteenth century.
We shall adduce one example, the teaching of Niklas Storch,
leader of the so-called Zwickau prophets.
This teaching, as
described in a contemporary book, included the following propositions:
A) No marital connection, whether secret or open, is to be
B) On the contrary, any man can take wives when
the flesh demands it and his passions rise, and live with them
in bodily intimacy exactly as he pleases.
C) Everything is to
be held in common, since God sent all people into the world
equal. Similarly He gave equally to all the possession of the
earth, of fowl in the air and fish in the sea.
D) Therefore all
authorities, terrestrial and spiritual, must be dismissed once
and for all, or be put to the sword, for they live untrammeled,
they drink the blood and sweat of their poor subjects, they
guzzle and drink day and night. . . . So we must all rise, the
sooner the better, arm ourselves and fall upon the priests in
their cozy little nests, massacre them and wipe them out. For
if you deprive the sheep of their leader, you can do what you
like with them. Then we must fall upon the bloodsuckers,
seize their houses, loot their property and raze their castles to
(3) In 1516 appeared the book which started a new stage
in the development of socialist thought, Thomas More's "Utopia".
Being in the form of a description of an ideal state built
on socialist principles, it continued, after a two-thousand year
break, the tradition of Plato, but in the completely different
conditions of Western Europe of the Renaissance.
most significant works to follow in this new current were "The
City of the Sun" by the Italian monk Tommaso Campanella (1602), and "The Law of Freedom in a Platform" by his contemporary
in the English revolution, Gerrard Winstanley (1652).
From the end of the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth,
socialist views spread more and more widely among
writers and philosophers and there appeared a veritable torrent
of socialist literature. The "socialist novel" came into
being, in which descriptions of socialist states were intertwined
with romance, travel and adventure (for example,
The History of the Savarambi by Verras; The Republic of
Philosophers by Fontenelle; The Southern Discovery by
Retif de la Bretonne).
The number of new philosophical, sociological
and moral tracts preaching socialist views constantly
increased (for example, Meslier's Testament; The
Law of Nature by Morelly; Thoughts on the Condition of Nature by Mably; The True System by Deschamps; and passages
in Diderot's Supplement to the "Journey of
All these works agree in proclaiming as a basic principle
the common ownership of property. Most of them supplement
it with compulsory labor and bureaucratic rule (More,
Campanella, Winstanley, Verras, Morelly). Others depict a
country divided into small agricultural communes ruled by
their most experienced members or by old men (Meslier,
Deschamps). Many systems presuppose the existence of slavery
(More, Winstanley, Verras, Fenelon), and More and Winstanley
regard it not only as an economic category but as a
means of punishment upholding the stability of society.
offer frequent elaborations of the ways in which society will
subordinate the individuality of its members. Thus, More
speaks of a system of passes which would be essential not
only for journeys about the country but for walks outside the
town, and he prescribes identical clothing and housing for
everybody. Campanella has the inhabitants going about in
platoons and the greatest crime for a woman is to lengthen
her dress or paint her face.
Morelly forbids all thought on
social or moral subjects. Deschamps assumes that all culture — art, science and even literacy — will wither away
An important part is played in these works by consideration
of the way in which the family and sexual relations are
Campanella assumes absolute bureaucratic control in this domain.
Bureaucrats decide which man is to couple with which
woman, and when. The union itself is supervised by officials.
Children are reared by the state. Deschamps thinks that the
menfolk of a village will be the husbands of all the women,
and that the children will never know their parents.
A new view of human history was worked out. Medieval
mysticism had regarded it as a unified process of the revelation
of God in three stages. Now this was transformed into
the idea of a historical process subject to immanent laws and
likewise consisting of three stages, the last of which leads
inescapably to the triumph of the socialist ideal.
Unlike the medieval heresies, which had attacked only the
Catholic religion, the socialist world view now became hostile
to any [Christian] religion, and socialism fused with atheism. In
More, freedom of conscience is linked with the recognition
of pleasure as the highest objective in life. Campanella's "religion"
resembles a pantheistic deification of the cosmos. Winstanley's
attitude to religion is one of outright hostility, his "priests" are merely the agitators and propagandists of the
system he describes.
Deschamps considers that [Christian] religion will
wither away, together with the rest of culture. But Meslier's
Testament stands out for its aggressive attitude toward [Christian] religion.
In [Christian] religion he sees the root of mankind's misfortunes,
he considers it a patent absurdity, a malignant superstition.
He particularly loathes the person of Christ, whom he
showers with abuse in protracted tirades, even blaming him
because "he was always poor" and "he wasn't resourceful
The very end of the eighteenth century saw the first attempt
to put the socialist ideology which had been developed
into practice. In 1786 in Paris a secret society called the "Union of the Equal" was founded with the aim of preparing
a revolution. The plot was discovered and its participants arrested,
but their plans have been preserved in detail, thanks
to the documents published by the government and to the
memoirs of the plotters who survived.
Among the aims which the plotters had set themselves, the
first was the abolition of private property. The whole French
economy was to be fully centralized. Trade was to be suspended
and replaced by a system of state provisioning.
aspects of life were to be controlled by a bureaucracy: "The
fatherland takes possession of a man from the day of his birth
and does not let him go until his very death." Every man was
to be regarded to some extent as an official supervising both
his own behavior and that of others. Everybody was to be
obliged to work for the state, while "the uncooperative, the
negligent, and people who lead dissolute lives or set a bad
example by their absence of public spirit" were to be condemned
to forced labor.
For this purpose many islands were
to be turned into strictly isolated places of confinement.
Everybody was to be obliged to eat in communal refectories.
Moving about the country without official permission
was to be forbidden. Entertainments which were not available
to everybody were categorically forbidden. Censorship
was to be introduced and publications "of a falsely denunciatory
character" were forbidden.
SOCIALISM IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
We can now return to the basic topic of this essay. However
short and disjointed our digression into the history of socialism
has been, one essential conclusion is beyond doubt:
"socialism cannot be linked with a specific area, geographical
context, or culture.
All its features, familiar to us from contemporary
experience, are met in various historical, geographical
and cultural conditions: in socialist states we
observe the abolition of private ownership of the means of
production, state control of everyday life, and the subordination
of the individual to the power of the bureaucracy; in
socialist doctrines we observe the destruction of private
property, of [Christian] religion, of the family and of marriage, and
the introduction of wife-sharing.
This cannot be considered a new conclusion: many writers
have pointed to the socialist character of such societies as the
empire of the Incas, the Jesuit state, or the early states of
Mesopotamia, while the history of socialist doctrine has been
the subject of numerous monographs (some of them even by
"socialists"). Thus, in his book "An Outline of the History of Socialism
in Most Recent Times", R. Y. Vipper writes: "one could
say of socialism that it is as old as human society.
Curiously enough this observation has not been used to
evaluate socialism as a historical phenomenon. But its significance
cannot be exaggerated. It calls for a complete review
and replacement of the established principles by which we
seek to understand socialism. If socialism is a feature of
nearly all historical periods and civilizations, then its origins
cannot be explained by any reasons connected with the specific
features of a specific period or culture: neither by the
contradiction between the productive forces and industrial
relations under capitalism, nor by the psychological characteristics
of the Africans or Arabs.
To try to understand it in
such a way hopelessly distorts the perspective, by squeezing
this great universal historical phenomenon into the unsuitable
framework of economic, historical and racial categories.
I shall try below to approach the same questions from the opposite
point of view: that socialism is one of those basic and
universal forces that have been in operation over the entire
span of human history.
A recognition of this, of course, in no way clarifies the historical role of socialism. We can approach an understanding
of this role by trying to elucidate the aims which socialism itself
avows. But here we run up against the fact that apparently
there are two answers to this question, depending
on whether we are talking about socialism as a state structure
or as a doctrine.
Whereas the socialist states (modern and ancient
alike) all base themselves on the one principle of the
destruction of private property, socialist doctrines advance a
number of other basic propositions over and above that, such
as the destruction of the family.
Here we meet two systems of views, one typical of "socialist
theory," the other typical of "socialist practice. - How do
we reconcile them and which is the true version of the aims
The following answer suggests itself (and has in some particular
cases been given): the slogans about the destruction of
the family and marriage and — in their more radical form— about wife-sharing, are necessary only for the destruction of
the existing social structures, for whipping up fanaticism and
rallying the socialist movements.
These slogans cannot, in
themselves, be put into practice; indeed, that is not their
function — they are necessary only before the seizure of
power. The only vital proposition in all the socialist teachings
is the destruction of private property.
And this indeed is
the true aim of the movement, and the only one which
should be taken into consideration in discussing the role of
socialism in history.
It seems to me that this point of view is essentially false.
First, because socialism, being an ideology capable of inspiring
grandiose popular movements and creating its own saints
and martyrs, cannot be founded on deception. It must be infused
with a deep inner unity.
And on the contrary, history
can show us many examples of the striking candor and, in
some sense, honesty with which similar movements have
proclaimed their objectives. If there is any deception here it
is on the side of the opponents of these movements, who are
guilty of self-deception. How often they strive to persuade
themselves that the most extreme ideological propositions of
a movement are irresponsible demagogy and fanaticism.
Then they are perplexed to discover that actions which
seemed improbable on account of their radical nature are the
fulfillment of a program which was never concealed, but was
proclaimed thunderously in public and expounded in all the
known writings about it.
We should note furthermore that all
the basic propositions of socialist doctrine can be found in
the works of such "detached" thinkers as Plato and Campanella,
who were not connected with any popular movements.
Evidently these principles arose in their writings as a
result of some inner logic and unity in socialist ideology,
which consequently cannot be torn into two parts, one to be
used in the seizure of power and then thrown away.
On the other hand, it is easy to see why socialist ideology
goes beyond the practice of the socialist states and outstrips
it. The thinker or organizer behind a popular movement on
the one hand, and the socialist politician on the other, even
though they base themselves on a unified ideology, have to
solve different problems and work in different spheres.
the creator or propounder of socialist doctrine it is important
to take the system to its uttermost logical conclusions, since it
is precisely in that form that they will be most accessible and
But the head of state has to consider, above
all, how to retain power. He begins to feel pressures that
force him to move away from a program of rigid adherence to
ideological norms, the pursuit of which would jeopardize the
very existence of the socialist state.
It is no coincidence that
for many decades the same phenomenon has been repeating
itself with such monotony, namely, that as soon as a socialist
movement comes to power (or at least to a share of power) its
less fortunate brothers anathematize it, accusing it of betraying
the socialist ideal — only to be accused of the same
should fortune smile on them.
But the dividing line that separates the slogans of the socialist
movements from the practice of the socialist states
does not run at all between the economic principles of socialism
and its demands for the destruction of the family and
marriage. Indeed, the propositions relating to economics and
to changing industrial relations are also not realized with
equal degrees of radicalism in the various socialist states.
A dramatic attempt to embody these principles to the full
was made during the period of "war communism" in our
country. The aim then was to base the entire Russian economy
on the direct exchange of goods, to reduce the market
and the role of money to nothing, to introduce the universal
conscription of industrial labor, to introduce collective working
of the land, to replace trade in agricultural products by confiscations and state distribution.
The term "war communism" is itself misleading because it makes us think of wartime
measures evoked by the exceptional situation during
the civil war. But when this policy was being pursued that
term was not used: it was introduced after the civil war,
when "war communism" was renounced and recognized as a
It was precisely when the civil war had in fact been won,
and plans were being worked out for the governing of the
country in peacetime conditions, that Trotsky, on behalf of
the Central Committee, presented to the Ninth Congress of
the Party the program for the "militarization" of the economy.
Peasants and workers were to be put in the position of
mobilized soldiers formed into "work units approximating to
military units" and provided with commanders. Everyone
was to feel that he was a "soldier of work who cannot be his
own master; if the order comes to transfer him he had to
comply; if he refuses ho will be a deserter who is punished.
To justify these plans Trotsky developed this theory: "If
we accept at face value the old bourgeois prejudice — or
rather not the old bourgeois prejudice but the old bourgeois
axiom which has become a prejudice — that forced labor is
unproductive, then this would apply not only to the work
armies but to conscripted labor as a whole, to the basis of our
economic construction and to socialist organization in general." But it turns out that the "bourgeois axiom" is true only
when applied to feudalism and capitalism, but is inapplicable
to socialism! "We say: it is not true that forced labor is
unproductive in all circumstances and in all conditions."
After a year "war communism" and "militarization" were
replaced by the New Economic Policy as a result of devastation,
hunger and rural uprisings. But the previous views were
not deposed. On the contrary, the NEP was declared to be
only a temporary retreat.
And indeed, those very ideas continued
to permeate Stalin's activity and the pronouncements
of the opposition whom he was fighting. They were stated in
Stalin's last work The Economic Problems of Socialism, in
which he called for a curtailment of trade and the circulation
of money, and their replacement by a system of barter.
We see a similar picture in the appearance in our country
of another basic feature of socialism, hostility to [Christian] religion.
Nineteen thirty-two saw the inauguration of the "godless
five-year plan," under which the last church was planned to
be closed by 1936, while by 1937 the name of God was no
longer supposed to be uttered in our country. In spite of the
unprecedented scale assumed by its religious persecutions,
the "godless five-year plan" was not fulfilled.
readiness of believers to submit to any tortures, the
birth of an underground Orthodox Church and the steadfastness
of believers of other faiths, the war, the tumultuous
rebirth of religious life in the territories occupied by the Germans — all these factors forced Stalin to give up his plan of
uprooting [Christian] religion and to recognize its right to exist.
principle of hostility to [Christian] religion remained and found expression
again in the persecutions under Khrushchev.
Let us try to examine the socialist principles relating to the
family and marriage from the same point of view. The first
years after the revolution, the 1920s, again provide an example
of how attempts were made to put these principles
The general Marxist views on the development of the family,
on which the practice of those years was based, are expounded
in detail in Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. They boil down to the assertion
that the family is one of the "superstructures" erected on
the economic base. In particular, "monogamy arose as a consequence
of the concentration of great wealth in one person's
hands — that person, moreover, being a man — and the need
to bequeath this wealth to the children of that man and nobody
else." In socialist society "the management of the individual
household will be turned into a branch of social work.
The care and upbringing of children will become a social
matter. - Thus the family will lose all its social functions,
which from the Marxist point of view means it will die out. The Communist Manifesto proclaims the disappearance of
the "bourgeois family." But by the twenties they were already
managing without this epithet.
Professor S. Y. Volfson,
in his lengthy work The Sociology of Marriage and the Family
(1929), foresaw that the family would lose the following
characteristics: its productive function (which it was already
losing under capitalism), its joint household (people would
take their meals communally), its child-rearing function (they
would be reared in state nurseries and kindergartens), its role
in the care of the aged, and the cohabitation of parents with
children and of married couples. "The family will be purged
of its social content, it will wither away. . . .
Practical measures were taken in accordance with these
ideological propositions. Thus, in his note "Ten Theses Concerning
Soviet Power," Lenin proposed taking "unflinching
and systematic measures to replace individual housekeeping
by separate families with the joint feeding of large groups of
families." And for decades afterward many people
languished in houses built in the twenties, where the communal
flats had no kitchens in anticipation of the gigantic "factory-kitchens" of the future.
Legislation simplified the
measures for entering into and dissolving marriage as much
as possible, so that registration became merely one of the
ways of confirming a marriage (together with its confirmation
in the courts, for example), while divorce was granted at the
immediate request of one of the partners. "To divorce in our
country is in some cases easier than to sign out in the house
register," wrote one jurist.
The family was viewed by leading
personalities of the time as an institution opposed to society
and the state. For instance, in her article entitled "Relations
between the Sexes and Class Morality," Alexandra Kollontai
wrote: "For the working class, greater 'fluidity' and less fixity
in sexual relations fully corresponds to, and is even a direct
consequence of, the basic tasks of that class.
In her opinion
woman was to be regarded as a representative of the revolutionary
class, "whose first duty is to serve the interests of the
class as a whole and not of a differentiated separate unit." All these actions affected life in such a way that Lenin not
only did not welcome the destruction of the "bourgeois family," predicted by The Communist Manifesto, but said: "You
know, of course, about the famous theory that in Communist
society the satisfaction of sexual desires and of the need for
love is as simple and insignificant as drinking a glass of
This 'glass of water' theory has made our young people
frantic, absolutely frantic. It has become the downfall of
many of our young men and girls. Its adherents proclaim that
this is a Marxist theory. We don't want that kind of Marxism" (Clara Tsetkin) Indeed, in an inquiry conducted
by the Communist Sverdlov Institute, only 3.7 percent of respondents indicated love as a
reason for their first intercourse.
As a result, in the European
part of the USSR between 1924 and 1925 the proportion of
divorces to marriages increased by 130 percent. In 1924, the
number of divorces per thousand that took place during the
first year of marriage was 26o in Minsk, 197 in Kharkov and
159 in Leningrad. A society was founded called "Down with
Shame"; and "naked marches" anticipated the modern hippies
by half a century.
This historical precedent seems to us to show that in more
favorable circumstances the socialist principle of the destruction
of the family might be realized in full, and marriage be
stripped of all its functions except intercourse between its members.
Such a result may well come
about in the near future, particularly in view of the increasing
likelihood of government intervention in this sphere of
human relations. "We shall interfere in the private relations
between men and women only insofar as they disrupt our
social structure," wrote Marx. But who is to say what disrupts "our structure"?
In the book by Professor Volfson which we
have already quoted, he writes, ". . . we have every reason
to believe that by the time socialism is established, childbirth
will have been removed from the powers of nature. . . But this, I repeat, is the only side of marriage
which, in our opinion, the socialist society will be able to
Such measures were in fact used in Nazi Germany,
both to avert the appearance of progeny undesirable from the
point of view of the state, and in order to obtain the desired
progeny. For instance, the Lebensborn organization created
by the SS selected Aryan mates for unmarried women, and
there was propaganda in favor of a system of auxiliary wives
for racially pure men.
And when China proclaimed the following
norm for family life: "One child is indispensable, two
are desirable, three are impermissible," one is entitled to
think that the term "impermissible" was in some way enforced.
It has nowadays become generally recognized that the
crisis of overpopulation is one of the basic dangers (and perhaps
the most frightening) that threaten mankind. Under
these conditions attempts by governments to assume control
of family relations may well be successful.
for instance, considers that government intervention in these
most delicate of human relations is inevitable in the very
near future, and that as a result the totalitarian empires of the
world will place cruel restrictions on human freedom in family
life, just as in economics and politics.
In such a situation, and
particularly with the increasing impairment of the spiritual
values on which mankind could lean, the century is
bringing with it the very real prospect of transformation
of family and marriage, a transformation whose spirit
has already been divined by Plato and Campanella.
These and other examples lead one to the conclusion that
socialist ideology contains a unified complex of ideas welded
together by internal logic. Of course, socialism takes on a variety
of forms in differing historical conditions, for it cannot
help mixing with other views. This is not surprising, and we
would meet the same in an analysis of any phenomenon of a
similar historical scale, for instance, [Christian] religion. However, it is
possible to isolate a very distinct nucleus and to formulate
the "socialist ideal" that manifests itself either fully or in
part, with greater or lesser impurity, in a variety of situations.
Socialist theories have proclaimed this ideal in its most
logical and radical form. The history of socialist states shows
a chain of attempts to approximate to an ideal which has
never yet been fully realized, but which can be reconstructed
from those approximations. This reconstructible ideal of the
socialist states coincides with the ideal of socialist doctrine,
and in it we can see the unified "socialist ideal."
THE SOCIALIST IDEAL
The formulation of this ideal is now no longer a problem.
The basic propositions of the socialist world view have
often been proclaimed: the abolition of private property, [Christian] religion, and the family.
One of the principles which is not so
often represented as fundamental, though it is no less widespread,
is the demand for equality through the destruction of the natural pecking order into which society has arranged itself.
The notion of
"equality" in socialist ideology has a special character, which is
particularly important for an understanding of socialism. In
the more consistent socialist systems equality is understood
in so radical a way that it leads to a negation of the existence
of any genuine differences between individuals: "equality" is turned into "equivalence."
For instance, Lewis Mumford, in The Myth of the Machine, suggests that in their social structure the early states of
Mesopotamia and Egypt expressed the concept of a machine
whose components were the citizens of the state. In support
of his argument he refers to contemporary drawings in which
warriors or workers were depicted in a completely stereotyped
manner, like the components of a machine.
The classic description of the socialist concept of equality
is "Shigalyovism" — the socialist utopia quoted by Dostoyevsky in The Possessed: "The thirst for education is already an aristocratic thirst. As
soon as there is a family or love, there is a desire for property.
We shall throttle that desire: we shall unleash drunkenness,
scandal, denunciations; we shall unleash unprecedented debauchery;
we shall extinguish every genius in his infancy. Everything must be reduced to the common denominator,
"Each belongs to all, and all to each. All are slaves and
equal in slavery. In extreme cases it will mean defamation
and murder, but the main thing is equality. First there will
be a drop in the standard of education, in learning and talent.
A high level of learning and talent is accessible only to the
very brainy. We must abolish the brainy!
The brainy have
always seized power and been despots. The brainy couldn't
be anything other than despots and have always brought
more debauchery than good. We will execute or exile them.
We will cut out Cicero's tongue, gouge out Copernicus's
eyes, stone Shakespeare to death — that's Shigalyovism!
Slaves must be equal: freedom and equality have never yet
existed without despotism, but there must be equality in the
herd, that's Shigalyovism!"
Supporters of socialism usually declare The Possessed to be
a parody, a slander on socialism. However, we shall take the
risk of quoting a few passages in a similar vein:
"This communism, everywhere negating the individuality
of man, is merely the logical continuation of private property,
which equally negates individuality. ". . . it so overestimates the role and dominion of material
property that it wants to destroy everything that cannot
become the possession and private property of the masses; it
wants to eliminate talent by force. . .
. . finally, this movement, which aims to oppose to private
property the universal ownership of private property,
expresses itself in a completely animal form when to marriage
(which is, of course, a certain form of exclusive private
property) it opposes the communal ownership of women, as a
result of which woman becomes a low form of social
"In the way that a woman abandons marriage for the realm
of general prostitution, so the whole world of wealth, that is,
of man's objectified essence, passes from the condition of
exclusive marriage with a private owner to general prostitution
with the collective."
I should very much like the reader to try to guess the author
of these thoughts before looking at the answer: K. Marx,
sketches for The Holy Family. To
calm the reader let me hasten to qualify this: Marx sees communism
in this way only "in its initial stages."
Marx depicts "collectivism as the positive destruction of private
property," in which he scientifically foresees quite other
features. According to this book, for instance, every object
will become "a humanified object or an objectified human" and "man assumes his many-sided essence in many-sided
ways, that is, as an integral person."
There was also a socialist movement which endowed
equality with such extraordinary significance that it derived
its title, the "Union of the Equal," from it. Here is their interpretation
of this concept:
"We want real equality or death, that's what we want. "For its sake we would agree to anything, we would sweep
everything away in order to retain just this. Let all the arts
vanish if necessary, so long as we are left with genuine
Collectivism as a Primitive Religion
The way in which equality is understood brings us to a
striking correlation between socialism and religion. They
consist of identical elements which, in their different contexts,
possess opposite meanings. "There is a similarity between
them in their diametrical opposition," says
Berdyayev of Christianity and Marxism. The idea of human
equality is also fundamental to religion, but it is achieved in
contact with God, that is, in the highest sphere of human existence.
Socialism, as is clearly evident from the examples
above, aims to establish equality by the opposite means of
destroying all the higher aspects of the personality. It is this
concept of equality to which the socialist principles of communal
property and the destruction of the family relate, and
it also explains the hatred of [Christian] religion which saturates socialist
The Four Key Elements of Socialism
The socialist ideal, that basic complex of notions which for
many thousands of years has lain at the foundation of socialist
ideology, can now be formulated:
(1) "Equality" via destruction
of the natural pecking order
(2) The destruction of private property
(3) The destruction of [Christian] religion
(4) The destruction of the
Dostoyevsky was by no means parodying when he drew
Do away at last with the nobles,
Do away with the tsar as well,
Take the land for common owners, Let your vengeance forever swell
Against church and marriage and family,
And all the old world's villainy.
WHERE IS SOCIALISM TAKING US?
We concluded above that there exists a unified ideal proclaimed
by socialist doctrine and implemented — with more
or less faithfulness — in the socialist states. Our task now is
to try to understand what essential changes in life its full implementation would produce. In doing so we will automatically
arrive at a description of the aim of socialism and its
role in history.
The various types of socialist system and the life of the socialist
states give us an opportunity to imagine how these
general propositions would be concretely embodied. We get
a picture which, although frightening and apparently strange
at first sight, has an integral, inner logic and is thoroughly
plausible. We must imagine a world in which every man and
woman is "militarized" and turned into a soldier.
in barracks or hostels, work under commanders, feed in communal
refectories, and spend their leisure hours only with
their own detachment. They need permits to go out in the
street at night, to go for a walk outside the town or to travel to
another town. They are all dressed identically, so that it is
hard to tell the men from the women, and only the uniforms
of the commanders stand out. Childbirth and relations between
the sexes are under the absolute control of the authorities.
The individual family, marriage and the familial rearing
of children do not exist. Children do not know their parents
and are brought up by the state. All that is permitted in art
are works which contribute to the education of the citizens in the spirit required by the state, while all the old art that does
not conform to this is destroyed.
Speculation is forbidden in
the realms of philosophy, morality and particularly religion,
of which all that remains is compulsory confession to one's
chiefs and the adoration of a deified head of state.
is punished by slavery, which plays an important role in
the economy. There are many other punishments and the
culprit is obliged to repent and thank his punishers. The people
take part in executions (by expressing their public approval or stoning the offender.)
Medicine also plays a part in
the elimination of undesirables.
None of these features has been taken from the novels of
Zamyatin, Huxley or Orwell: they have been borrowed
from familiar socialist systems or the practice of socialist
states, and we have selected only the typical ones which are
met with in several variants.
What will be the consequences of the establishment of
such a system, in what direction will it take human history?
In asking this question I am not asking to what extent a socialist
society will be able to maintain the standard of living,
secure the population's food, clothing and housing, or protect
it from epidemics.
These admittedly complex questions do
not form the basic problem, which is really that the establishment
of a social order fully embodying the principles of socialism will lead to a complete alteration in man's relation to
life and to a radical break in the structure of human individuality.
One of the fundamental characteristics of human society is
the existence of individual relations between people. As the
excellent behaviorist researches of the last decades have
shown, we are dealing here with a phenomenon of very ancient,
prehuman origin. There are many kinds of social animals,
and the societies they form are of two types: the
anonymous and the individualized.
In the first (for instance,
in a shoal of herrings) the members do not know each other
individually, and they are interchangeable in their relations.
In the second (for example, a gaggle of wild geese) relations
arise in which one member plays a special role in the life of
another and cannot be replaced.
The presence of such relations
is, in a certain sense, the factor which determines individuality.
And the destruction of these individual relations is
one of the proclaimed goals of socialism — between husbands
and wives and between parents and children.
striking that among the forces which, according to the behaviorists,
support these individualized societies we find those
of hierarchy and of territory. Likewise in human society hierarchy
and property, above all one's own house and plot of
land, help to strengthen individuality: they secure the individual's
indisputable place in life and create a feeling of independence
and personal dignity.
And their destruction
figures among the basic aims advanced by socialism.
Of course, only the very foundation of human society has a
biological origin of that kind. The basic forces which promote
the development of individuality are specifically human.
These are religion, morality, the feeling of personal participation
in history, a sense of responsibility for the fate of mankind.
Socialism is hostile to these too. We have already
quoted many examples of the hatred of [Christian] religion which characterizes
socialist doctrine and socialist states.
In the most
vivid socialist doctrines we usually find assertions that history
is directed by factors independent of the human will,
while man himself is the product of his social environment — doctrines which remove the yoke of responsibility
which [Christian] religion and morality place on man.
And finally, socialism is directly hostile to the very phenomenon
of human individuality. Thus, Charles Fourier says that the
basis of the future socialist structure will be the at present
unknown feeling ("passion") of uniteisme. In contemporary
life he could only indicate the antithesis of this feeling: "This disgusting inclination has been given various names
by specialists: moralists call it egoism, ideologists call it the
` I,' a new term which, however, contributes nothing new and
is only a useless paraphrase of egoism."
Marx, noticing that even after the acquisition of democratic
freedom society remains Christian, concluded that it is still "flawed" in that ". . . man — not man in general but each individual
man — considers himself a sovereign, higher being,
and this is man in his uncultivated, nonsocial aspect in an accidental
form of existence, as he is in life.. .
And even in Bebel, in whom participation in the parliamentary
game and the enticing hopes of thus obtaining
power so moderated all the radicalism of socialist ideology, we
suddenly discover this picture: "The difference between the
`lazy' and the 'industrious,' between the foolish and the wise
cannot exist any more in the new society, since what we
mean by those concepts will not exist either." The fact that socialism leads to the suppression of individuality
has frequently been remarked on.
But this feature has
usually been regarded as just a means for the attainment of
some end: the development of the economy, the good of the
whole people, the triumph of justice or universal material
Such, for instance, was the point of view of
S. Bulgakov, who juxtaposed socialism with the first temptation
of Christ: in "turning stones to bread" socialism tried to
limit all mankind's goals to the solution of purely material
problems. In my opinion the whole history of socialism contradicts
Socialist doctrines, for instance, show surprisingly
little interest in the immediate conquest of injustice
They condemn all efforts in this area as "bourgeois philanthropy," "reformism" and "Uncle Tomism," and the solution of these problems is postponed until
the triumph of the socialist ideal.
As always, Nechaev is
more candid than anyone: "If you don't watch out the government
will suddenly dream up a reduction in taxation or
some similar blessing. This would be a real disaster, because
even under present conditions the people are moving gradually
upward, and if their penury is eased by even a fraction, if
they manage to get just one cow more, they will regress by
decades and all our work will be wasted.
We must, on the
contrary, oppress the people at every opportunity like, shall
we say, sweatshop owners." And so we come to the opposite
point of view, that the economic and social demands of socialism
are the means for the attainment of its basic aim, the
destruction of individuality. And many of the purely economic
principles preached by socialists (such as planning)
have been shown by experience not to be organically connected
with socialism at all — which, in fact, has turned out
to be badly adapted to their existence.
What will be the effect on life of a change in the spiritual
atmosphere such that human individuality is destroyed in all
its most essential forms?
Such a revolution would amount to the destruction of Man,
at least in the sense that has hitherto been contained in this
concept. And not just an abstract destruction of the concept,
but a real one too. It is possible to point to a model for the situation
we are considering in an analogous process which
took place on a much smaller scale, namely, the clash between
primitive peoples and European civilization.
ethnographers think that the main reason for the disappearance
of many indigenous peoples was not their extermination
by Europeans, not the diseases or alcoholism brought by the
whites, but the destruction of their religious ideas and rituals,
and of the way their life was arranged to give meaning
to their existence.
Even when Europeans seemed to be helping by improving their living conditions, organizing medical
aid, introducing new types of crops and farm animals or obstructing
tribal wars, the situation did not change. The natives
became generally apathetic, they aged prematurely, lost
their will to live, died of diseases which previously they had
survived with ease. The birthrate plummeted and the population
It seems obvious that a way of life which fully embodies
socialist ideals must have the same result, with the sole difference
that the much more radical changes will bring a more
universal result, the withering away of all mankind, and its
There appears to be an inner organic link here: socialism
aims at the destruction of those aspects of life which form the
true basis of human existence. That is why we think that the
death of mankind is the inescapable logical consequence of
socialist ideology and simultaneously a real possibility,
hinted at in every socialist movement and state with a degree
of clarity which depends on its fidelity to the socialist ideal.
THE MOTIVE FORCE OF SOCIALISM
If that is the objective conclusion toward which socialism
is moving, what then is its subjective aim? What inspires all
these movements and gives them their strength? The picture
that emerges from our deliberations has all the appearances
of a contradiction: socialist ideology, whose realization in full
leads to the destruction of mankind, has for thousands of
years inspired great philosophers and raised great popular
Why have they not been aware of the debacle
that is the true end of socialism? And if aware, why have they
not recoiled from it? What error of thought, what aberration
of the feelings can propel people along a path whose end is
It seems to me that the contradiction here is not real, but
only apparent, as often happens when someone makes a
proposition in an argument which seems so obvious that nobody pays any attention to it, yet it is this unnoticed proposition
that embodies the contradiction.
In this particular
argument the obvious element seems to be the proposition
that the fatal nature of socialism has never been noticed, but
the closer you become acquainted with socialist philosophy,
the clearer it becomes that there is no error here, no aberration.
The organic connection between socialism and death is
subconsciously or half-consciously felt by its followers without
in the least frightening them at all. On the contrary, this
is what gives the socialist movements their attraction and
their motive force. This cannot of course be proved logically,
it can be verified only by checking it against socialist literature
and the psychology of socialist movements. And here we
are obliged to limit ourselves to a few heterogeneous examples.
If Nechaev, for instance, in calling on young people to join
the revolution, also warned them that "the majority of the
revolutionaries will perish without trace — that's the prospect" (one of those rare prophecies that was realized in full),
what attraction did he have for them?
He of all people could
not appeal to God, or to the immortal soul, or to patriotism, or
even to a sense of honor, since "in order to become a good
socialist" he proposed the renunciation of "all feelings of
kinship, friendship, love, gratitude, and even honor itself." In the proclamations issued by him and Bakunin one can
see quite clearly what it was that attracted them and infected
the others: the urge for death and "unbridled destruction," "absolute and extraordinary.
A whole generation of contemporary
revolutionaries was doomed to perish in that conflagration,
a generation poisoned by "the most squalid living
conditions," fit only to destroy and be destroyed.
Bakunin's sole aim. Not only were positive ideals absent, it
was forbidden even to think about them: "We refuse pointblank
to work out the future conditions of life . . . we do not
wish to deceive ourselves with the dream that we shall have
enough strength left for creation.
In the USSR our generation well remembers how we
marched in columns of young pioneers and sang with fervor
(as did the young people in the civil war, and the Red Guards
Bravely shall we enter battle
On behalf of Soviet power
And all together we shall die
In this struggle of ours.
And the greatest fervor, the greatest élan was evoked by that
phrase "all together we shall die." Or here is how three of the most famous socialist writers of
the last century imagined the future of the human race: Saint-
Simon foresaw that mankind would perish as a result of the
planet's drying up. Charles Fourier thought the same because the
earth would "stop rotating on its axis and the poles would
topple down to the equator," while Engels thought it would
be because the planet would cool down.
These can hardly be regarded as the fruits of scholarly
minds forced to bow to the truth, however drastic it might appear
to be. Moreover, these three prophecies cannot all be
Religion predicts the end of our world too, but only after
the attainment of its ultimate aim, which also supplies the
meaning of its history. But socialism (on the principle of the
similarity of diametrical opposites) attributes the end of mankind
to some external accident and thus deprives its whole
history of any meaning.
In the near future the leaders of the socialist movements
will look forward with surprising sangfroid, and occasionally, in spite of his different arguments, Engels had a high opinion of
even with open satisfaction, to the destruction, if not of all
mankind, then of the greater part of it.
In our time Chairman
Mao has already stated his conviction that the death of half
the population of the globe would not be too high a price
for the victory of socialism throughout the world.
at the beginning of the fourteenth century, for example, the
leader of the Patarene movement in Italy, Dolcino, predicted
the imminent destruction of all mankind, relying on the authority
of the prophet Isaiah: "And the remnant will be quite
small and insignificant.
There are many indications that a tendency to self-destruction
is not foreign to mankind: we have the pessimistic religion
of Buddhism, which postulates as the ultimate aim of
mankind its fusion with the Nothing, with Nirvana; the philosophy
of Lao-Tse, in which the ultimate aim is dissolution
in nonbeing; the philosophical system of Hartmann, who predicted
the deliberate self-destruction of mankind; the appearance
at various times of scientific and philosophical trends
setting out to prove that man is a machine, though their
proofs are in each case completely different and all they have
in common is their (totally unscientific) urge to establish this
Finally, the fundamental role of the urge to self-destruction
has long since been indicated by biology. Thus, Freud considered
it (under the title of the death instinct, or Thanatos)
one of the two basic forces which determine man's psychic
And socialism, which captures and subordinates millions of
people to its will in a movement whose ideal aim is the death
of mankind, cannot of course be understood without the assumption
that those same ideas are equally applicable to social
phenomena, that is, that among the basic forces
influencing historical development is the urge to selfdestruction,
the human death instinct.
An understanding of this urge as a force analogous to instinct
also enables us to explain some specific features of socialism. The manifestations of an instinct are always
connected with the sphere of the emotions; the performance
of an instinctive action evokes a deep feeling of satisfaction
and emotional uplift, and in man a feeling of inspiration and
This can account for the attractiveness of the
socialist world view, that condition of ardor and of spiritual
uplift, and that inexhaustible energy which can be met in the
leaders and members of the socialist movements. These
movements have the quality of infectiousness which is typical
of many instincts.
Conversely, understanding, the capacity for learning and
for intellectual evaluation of a situation, are almost incompatible
with instinctual action. In man, the influence of instinct
as a rule lowers the critical faculty: arguments directed
against the aims which the instinct is striving to achieve are
not only not examined but are seen as base and contemptible.
All these features are found in the socialist world view.
At the beginning of this essay we pointed out that socialism
as it were repels rational consideration. It has often been
remarked that to reveal contradictions in socialist teachings
in no way reduces their attractive force, and socialist ideologists
are not in the least scared of contradictions.
Only in the context of socialism, for instance, could there
arise in the nineteenth century — and find numerous followers — such a doctrine as Charles Fourier's in which a basic role is
played by the animistic notion of the "sexual life" of the planets.
Charles Fourier predicted that
in the future socialist system the water of the seas and oceans
would acquire the taste of lemonade, and that the present
creatures of the sea would be replaced by antiwhales and antisharks,
which would convey cargoes from one continent to
another at colossal speed." This will seem less surprising,
however, if we recall that it is only just over two hundred
years since socialist ideology assumed a rational exterior.
And it was ony relatively recently that socialism, in the form of Marxism, exchanged this exterior
for a scientific one. The brief period of "scientific socialism" is ending before our eyes, the scientific wrapping no
longer increases the attraction of socialist notions and socialism
is casting it off.
Thus Herbert Marcuse, in "The End of Utopia", says that for the modern "avant-garde Left" Charles Fourier is
more relevant than Marx precisely because of his greater utopianism.
He calls for the replacement of the development of
socialism "from utopia to science" by its development "from
science to utopia."
All this shows that the force which manifests itself in socialism
does not act through reason, but resembles an instinct.
This accounts for the inability of socialist ideology to
react to the results of experience, or, as behaviorists would
say, its inability to learn.
A spider, spinning its web, will
complete all the six thousand four hundred movements necessary
even if its glands have dried up in the heat and will
produce no silk. How much more dramatic is the example of
the socialists, with the same automatism constructing for the
nth time their recipe for a society of equality and justice: it
would seem that for them the numerous and varied precedents
which have always led to one and the same result do
The experience of many thousands of years is rejected
and replaced by cliches from the realm of the irrational,
such as the claim that all the different socialisms of today
and yesterday or created in a different part of the globe were
not the real thing, and that in the special conditions of "our" socialism everything will be different, and so on and so forth.
That is the explanation for the longevity of that mass of
prejudices and catchphrases surrounding socialism, like the
identification of socialism with "social justice" or the belief in
its scientific character. They are accepted without the least
verification and take root in people's minds like absolute
At our present turning point the depth and complexity of
the problem of collectivism facing mankind is becoming increasingly apparent.
Mankind is being opposed by a powerful force which threatens its very existence and at the same time paralyzes its
most reliable tool — reason.