They have eyes, but cannot see — the conundrum of American attitudes towards socialism

Before the 1970s (give or take a decade) the vast majority of Americans viewed socialism as a profoundly anti-American phenomenon.  Red scares started in the immediate wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and America’s dislike for socialism, especially under the guise of communism, continued unabated through the first two thirds of the Vietnam War.

The temperature of the fear rose and fell, with some years witnessing a passive dislike for the red menace and other years erupting in active worries about America’s continued well-being as world socialism came a’knockin’ (thing HUAC).  Whether the fear was hot or cold, though, that deep suspicion always ran strong and true through the American bedrock.  Simply put, Americans were pretty darn sure that communism/socialism was a bad thing.

What’s so interesting, looking back on America’s decades-long hate affair with socialism, is that during all those years Americans hadn’t actually seen socialism in action.  Sure, they knew it sparked revolutions in Russia and China, but those were tightly closed societies, so the full horrors visited on those countries’ citizens were invisible to most Americans.

Not only were the depredations of socialist governments invisible, the information flow into America was made worse because of so-called journalists who were either actively complicit shills, and who provided leadership for the useful idiots who, even then, populated journalism.  The shills did their best, not only to hide communism’s miseries from Americans, but actively to lie about what was going on.  The New York Times’ own Pulitzer Prize winning Walter Duranty springs readily to mind as an example of the lies fed to Americans. Even as Stalin was murdering 35 million of his own people, Duranty used the nation’s premier newspaper to keep a steady stream of pro-Soviet propaganda flowing through America.  Despite that disinformation, Americans disliked the Soviets and what they stood for.

World War II was effective in exposing the world to the horrors of day-to-day life in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.  The problem with that exposure, though, was that those countries had denominated themselves, or been denominated, as “fascist.”  This label obscured for most people the connection between socialism, on the one hand, and the German and Italian systems, on the other hand.  Even my mother, who lived through that era, insists to this day that Germany and Italy were “right wing,” which in her mind means that they couldn’t possibly have been Left wing socialist, never mind the “zocialismus” in the Nazi party title.

Despite disinformation, misinformation and non-information, and despite misleading labels, mid-20th Century Americans understood that socialism — by which I mean maximum government control and minimum individual freedom — was antithetical to core American values.  They understood this because they understood the nature of socialism.  Understanding the theory behind socialism meant that they didn’t need evidence of its failures to know that socialism and the American system canceled each other out.  It helped that, having been raised on a steady diet of old-fashioned patriotism, Americans were clear that they wanted the American system triumphant.

Beginning in the 1960s, however, with the hard leftward shift in academia and in the entertainment world, Americans were presented with a different vision of socialism.  They were told that it was “fair;” they were told that it was an appropriate expiation for the sins of imperialism (an atonement that seemed like a good idea when paired with the self-loathing emanating from academia and Hollywood); and, most significantly, they were told that socialism would inevitably result in European-style wealth, leisure  and cool chic (never mind that it was America that funded this wealth and leisure by taking over the European states’ obligation to provide for their own defense).  This combination of being fair, having guilt assuaged, and envisioning socialistically enlightened Americans being as cool Europeans with red wine, Gallois cigarettes, and a café attitude was sufficient to blind Americans to something entirely new:  actual evidence about socialism’s personal cruelties and economic failures.

You see, the last thirty years have brought us face-to-face with the hideous facts of real life under socialism, whether the hard socialism of China, Cuba, North Korea, and the Soviets, or the soft socialism of Europe.  We now know that, during China’s “Great Leap Forward,” between 40 to 100 million people died (depending on who is counting) from starvation, neglect, torture and out-and-out murder.  We now know that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 35 million of his own people during the 1930s alone, a number that doesn’t count the millions of others murdered, disappeared or imprisoned in gulags in the years after that.  We now know that life in North Korea is the closest thing to a living Hell we see on earth outside of the total anarchy that appears in Africa (including the genocide that is North African Islam).  We now know that the cool Cuban icon Che Guevara was a psychopathic mass murderer who particularly enjoyed murdering boys, and that Castro keeps his prisons full.  We now know that East Germany was a police state in which every person spied on his friends, family and neighbors, all in a vain effort to curry favor with a cruel and despotic regime.

We also know that none of those systems worked economically.  China has embraced a weirdly capitalist economy, but kept its iron control on people’s individual freedoms; the Soviet Union collapsed; North Koreans eat dirt; and Cuba stays alive courtesy of its patron states on the Dark Side.

Europe’s soft, self-loathing socialism hasn’t worked so well either.  The perpetual adolescence that soft socialism encourages has resulted in a dying society, one that refuses to inconvenience itself long enough to have the children that will replenish its population.  The European economies are stagnant and flabby, when they’re not totally collapsing.  (And before someone points a finger at the saggy, flabby American economy, I’ll assert here and now my belief that America’s economy is in such terrible shape precisely because we have been emulating European socialism, rather than following solid free market principles.)

European self-hatred, a by-product of Leftism, has left Europe ripe for an Islamic takeover, made easier for the Islamists by the fact that Europe has been inviting them in, as part of its never-ending atonement for its imperialist sins.  (As for me, I don’t think it’s fair that Europe doesn’t get to use the Enlightenment as some sort of offset from this endless atonement.)  The average European is also being micromanaged to death, with an endless Nanny state bureaucracy inserting itself into every aspect of life.  Reading European and British newspapers makes it seem as if Europeans and Brits are no longer individuals but, instead, are sex-crazed, drunken, lazy, violent, state-run automatons.

So here’s the bizarre paradox:  In the past, when Americans were motivated by patriotism and a clear understanding that socialism is antithetical to individual freedoms, they loathed socialism despite being unaware of its true horrors.  And now, in the present, Americans who have been raised to hate themselves and to believe in socialisms wonder, believe socialism is a good and workable system despite irrefutable evidence that its has failed in every single place is has been tried — and that its failures are spectacular and often measured by the mountainously high bodies of its victims.