One question that every Socialist will be asked at some point in time is "name one successful Socialist country". The question will be smugly asked as though the answer "none" is a fait accompli.
Of course, rather than being the nail in the coffin of any pro-Socialist argument, it merely shows the sheer lack of knowledge of the person posing the question. The question displays the ignorant arrogance of the "talk-show" educated right wing.
The answer is a comprehensive list of Socialist successes and a testimony to the malevolent and genocidal policies of capitalism. Many Socialist countries, whilst economically successful, were overthrown, not because of the failure of Socialism, but because the bastion of freedom and democracy, the United States, ensured that even democratically elected Socialists would fail through one right wing coup after another. Coups which often installed blood-thirsty tyrants, such as Pinochet or Suharto. At times it wasn't a coup that was sponsored, but an existing tyrant to ensure that Socialism or Communism would not take over, such as the US sponsoring of Pol Pot and his killing fields.
This article is not just constrained to answering the question regarding successful socialist countries. It also provides a critique of the effectiveness of "Democracy" as implemented by the United States. The reason for this is that the USA had a systematic and deliberate policy of undermining Socialism. That coupled with the exploitation of Socialism by despots who were anything but Socialist, ensured that Socialism would not operate to the extent that it should have. Sadly, most people believe the mass media reports regarding the munificence of the United States and the evil of Socialism. The truth is that both the USA and the USSR were evil and their "Cold War" resulted in the deaths of millions of people, not in the name of Democracy or Socialism, but for the purposes of Power, Hegemony and Capitalism. Both nations were determined to suppress dissidents, exploit workers, keep wages low and profits high - not for the benefit of their citizens, but the benefit of their leaders and, particularly in the case of the USA, their own corporations.
What is Socialism?
Socialism places responsibility for production in the hands of workers and it ensures that wealth is not accumulated in isolated pockets but is distributed for the benefit of all members of society. For instance, it may be distributed through public health, education, security.
For Socialism to succeed, it requires that ALL members work for the benefit of ALL.
Socialism is not about creating a welfare state.
Socialism is not about placing power in the hands of the FEW to exploit ALL, which is what Leninism and Stalinism did. The Soviet Union may have called itself Socialist. However, it was anything but Socialist. It opposed the true virtues of Marxism. Lenin, Stalin and the rest of the Soviet exploited the workers uprising to introduce a repressive regime that benefited no citizen, let alone the workers.
What is Capitalism?
Capitalism requires government control over the market - even in a so called "free" market. For instance, if it wasn't for "Free Trade Agreements" and the "General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs", most USA corporations would actually have to compete fairly with smaller traders in weaker economies. Instead, the US government has ensured that strength and growth of their corporations whilst allowing them to exploit weaker economies and markets.
Essentially, Capitalism is redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.
For Capitalism to succeed, it requires that ALL members of society work for the benefit of the FEW. It places power in the hands of the FEW to exploit ALL.
Note, the rhetoric by the right wing, in which they will accuse left wing parties of being Socialist when a government funds health, education, police, defence and so on. They will accuse the left of creating a welfare state. Yet, when the government funds big business that is called democracy, free trade - capitalism!
But first, how do we measure success? As the United States has established itself as the bastion of democracy and capitalism, it should be used to compare to Socialist states. The USA certainly has been a strong economy and has dominated the world militarily. In fact, the USA has spent far more on its military and military interventions in other countries, than it has on the welfare of its own people. Any suggestion of government being responsible for the welfare of its citizens is met with derision and accusations of socialism or communism. As a measure of success, the USA's GDP certainly exceeded that of any other country, whether capitalist, socialist or other. This wealth was built on a series of violent, international interventions which established US corporations in many countries and ensured that the wealth of those countries was redistributed to the USA. However, compared to Socialist states, USA levels of unemployment were much higher and it lacked any ability to provide health care for its poorest citizens.
Is success having wealth in the hands of the few whilst the majority earn minimum wage? Is success having the strongest military and no public health system? Is success having the biggest house and a mortgage that can't be serviced? Is success measured by "he who has the most toys wins"? Yet, this is the mentality of the United States.
To achieve this "success", the government has marketed an unattainable dream to the populace whilst exploiting fears that the dream will not be realised if "Socialism" undermines the power of corporations to sell this dream.
Socialism did not fail. It was overthrown through aggressive, extremist Capitalism, implemented through genocide and economic blackmail, which destroyed lives, economies, political systems and democracy in many countries. Socialist states in Europe suffered the ignominy of the betrayal of Marxism by those who claimed to represent it, in particular Stalin and his legacy of aggression, suppression and oppression enforced by the Soviet Union. For instance, the operation of Gulags, human rights abuses targetting loosely defined "enemies of the State", and the invasions of nations, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia. None of these actions are compatible with Socialism and they undermined the benefits of Marxism.
The USA's strong capitalistic stance has resulted in it's citizens being responsible for obtaining their own private health care, and without a welfare safety net, many unemployed do not have the means to house or feed themselves. No economy is perfect. Every nation can be criticised for failures in various areas. These failures do not mean that the dominant political preference is a failure. Often it is the politicians who fail, not the politics.
In his book, "How the World Works", Noam Chomsky points out that one of the reasons that Eastern European nations have higher health and educational standards than Latin American nations is because of the differing economic policies in the region. Chomsky cites US intelligence figures, which indicate that during the 1970s, the Soviet Union injected around $80 billion dollars into Eastern Europe, while between 1982 and 1988 the USA and other western nations extracted around $150 billion from Latin America.
The USA is without doubt the world's most powerful nation; but power should not be abused. Since the Second World War, the USA has intervened in the sovereignty of over 70 nations, not for the benefit of those nations, but for the benefit of US corporations. Capitalism was the religion that defined the extremist, foreign relations policies of the United States.
The USA has claimed these interventions were for democracy, freedom and human rights. Yet, USA interventions have resulted in democratic elections being corrupted, democratically elected governments overthrown, tyrants with no respect for human rights installed and millions of people massacred as a result.
The western media demonised the Soviet Union yet the USSR never intervened as often or as violently as the USA in the sovereignty of other nations. Instead of criticising USA foreign policy, the media glorified it. The USA has constantly portrayed socialism or communism as being incompatible with democracy. Yet, this is not the case. There have been instances of democratically elected Socialist leaders. There is nothing in Socialism that prevents democracy. Further, is democracy the pinnacle of politics? Democracy itself has its failings. Rule by the majority often means that the minority is left out. This was recognised by the founding fathers of the United States, who did not found America as a democracy because of this very threat; to avoid the "tyranny of majority".
Politicians should govern for the benefit of the entire nation, not to simply meet the wishes of the majority or the wealthiest.
Is Socialism incompatible with Human Rights?
Not all countries which have been labelled "Socialist" are truly that. The USSR could hardly have been called "Socialist". It was not run by the workers and the redistribution of wealth did not benefit its citizens. It was run by despots who were only interested in bolstering their own power and wealth. This is a perverted form of Capitalism. Stalin did not conduct pogroms, gulags and violent suppression of free speech in order to protect Soviet citizens or Socialism, but in order to protect himself. Karl Marx never called for genocide. Marxism is not Stalinism.
Similarly, brutality in China was not about Communism, but about power.
The brutality and oppression of the USSR was generally confined to its own borders and at times to countries behind the Iron Curtain. China's brutality was confined to its own borders and on the occasion it extended beyond that, was usually because of its interpretation of what was Chinese territory, for example, Tibet and Taiwan.
Whilst the USA never waged such brutality against its own citizens, it did directly sponsor brutal despots and provided material support, training and supervision of death squads in order to suppress political dissent throughout the globe. The USA's brutality was global with no respect for borders, democracy or human rights; it was all about money and hegemony.
Modern capitalists will demonise Socialism by saying it is undemocratic and that it opposes free speech, however, the examples that they use are not exemplary of socialism. Free speech, democracy, liberty are compatible with socialism. Despotism and brutality are not the sole bastion of left-wing tyrants, but have been used by many capitalist nations over the years, most often by the United States, either directly or by material support, resulting in the deaths of millions of people across the globe. Stalin also sponsored massacres of people he did not like.
Noam Chomsky (How the World Works) reports that a journalist who worked for the Guatemalan newspaper La Epoca (which had been forced to close as a result of US pressure) stated, "while the Moscow-imposed government in Prague would degrade and humiliate reformers, the Washington-made government in Guatemala would kill them. It still does, in a virtual genocide that has taken more than 150,000 victims (in what Amnesty International) calls a 'government program of political murder' ".
As with any political system "nationalism" is the danger (refer to my blog "Nationalism Rising"). Coupled with Nationalism is fear - fear of different cultural, ethnic or religious groups and this is used to justify violence, racism, jingoism.
"Name one successful Socialist country"
Now, to answer the question "name one successful Socialist country".
The following is a list of a few of the successes of socialism, in no particular order:
China (apart from the unnecessary human rights violations of course). Certainly Mao Tse Tung is not the poster boy of tolerance and understanding, however, economically China has prospered under Communism and now has one of the strongest economies in the world.
Chile under the democratically elected Marxist, President Allende, had successfully implemented public health schemes and reduced food and housing shortages and increased housing standards. He nationalised more than 90 industries, including the copper industry, banking and credit, which assisted in redistributing wealth equitably. His land reforms saw previously unused land used for food production, greatly assisting in reducing malnutrition. These Socialist measures were of course, unacceptable to the United States so the Chilean economy was blatantly sabotaged through USA interference and withholding of aid, manipulation of media through fear campaigns and false propaganda, and influencing the military. This interference culminated in Allende being murdered in a bloody CIA backed coup on 11 September 1973 in order to install a right-wing, pro-American military dictator in the form of General Pinochet, who then went on to massacre thousands of his own people. Of course, the massacres were for the Chileans own benefit in order to protect them from the evils of Socialism and allow them to enjoy economic rape by American corporations.
Indonesia under President Sukarno had proven Socialist reform to be so successful that their economy was booming, there were greater job prospects, people were better educated than ever before. Sukarno founded the Republic of Indonesia after centuries of Dutch colonial rule and Japanese occupation. He peacefully united the multitude of cultures and religions. Sukarno had shown that not only was his pro-Socialist policies effective, but that he was not going to kowtow to United States imperialism. This was unacceptable to the United States, who then backed a bloody coup in 1965 to install the blood-thirsty dictator, President Suharto who then went on to massacre over 1 million of his own country-men - but at least they weren't ruled by a Socialist. The USA was so involved in the massacres that US embassy officers in Jakarta were handing out lists to the Indonesian Army which detailed the names of left wing suspects, many of whom were members of unions, peasant groups, political parties (such as the PKI - Communist Party of Indonesia) and even student organisations. The USA knowingly provided material support to facilitate the massacres through the supply of military equipment, including jeeps, aircraft, radios, weapons and ammunition. The USA's pro-democracy, pro-human rights policies strike again. Suharto went on to invade East Timor after Portugal withdrew and it appeared a Socialist government could come to power if East Timor gained independence. The invasion and occupation took place with the benefit of financial and military aid from the UK, USA and Australia, resulting in the deaths of approximately one third of the population (more than 200,000 people) - but at least the country wasn't socialist. Margaret Thatcher even lauded Suharto as 'one of our very best and most valuable friends'.
Cuba under Fidel Castro, who introduced universal health care (something which the USA still does not have), literacy programs and nationalised industry to better the lives of his people. Castro constantly resisted US influence and survived numerous assassination attempts by the CIA, many of which would have been comical had they not actually occurred (including the infamous exploding cigars and deadly flowers). The USA waged chemical and biological warfare against Cuba through the spraying of crops with pesticides and releasing millions of mosquitoes containing dengue fever. The economy of Cuba was undermined through these criminal actions along with US sponsored trade embargoes and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, which resulted in Cuba losing a significant source of aid.
Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, a Marxist group who finally overthrew the US sponsored despotic regime of Somoza and introduced educational, health, agrarian and other industrial reform and signnificantly, they introduced political reform through the installation of democratic processes. The Sandinistas increased the living standards, improved agriculture, education, health, housing and employment, benefitting all Nicaraguans. Again the US was not happy about a successful, democratic Socialist economy so they exerted their considerable influence to ensure that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ceased all aid to Nicaragua. The USA also collaborated with former Nazis operating in Argentina to establish the "Contras" who unleashed a rein of terror and violence against the Sandanistas. This violence employed similar techniques that the Nazis had used during their reign under Hitler. President Reagan was responsible for the Iran-Contra scandal in which the USA sold weapons illegally through Israel to Iran (an officially declared terrorist nation which western countries were banned from selling weapons to) and then used the profits to fund the Contras savage insurgency activity in Nicaragua, Honduras and other Central and South American countries. Under Reagan, US government agencies assisted Columbian drug cartels to transport drugs into the United States with the profits being used to fund the Contras brutal attacks on Nicaragua, which included destroying schools, hospitals, crops and massacring civilians. But that was ok, because the Contras were fighting Marxists who had the temerity to govern with the welfare of their own people as a priority, rather than giving priority to US corporations.
Hugo Chavez was democratically elected as the President of Venezuela in 1998. He was a socialist, initially a proponent of Bolivarianism, later democratic socialism. Chavez inherited an economy racked with corruption and poverty. Through his presidency, Chavez improved the human rights issues in Venezuela and managed to reduce poverty. (http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7513). While there is much to be done to further reduce poverty, the gains made by Chavez wouldn't have happened had it not been him nationalising the oil industry, which helped ensure that money earnt from Venezualan resources was kept in and used for Venezuela. He also spent significant sums on repair government buildings, schools, churches and so on. Millions of people were finally treated in public hospitals, millions of children were vaccinations. Under Chavez, Venezuela's 'human development index' increased significantly.
Vietnam has improved economically since the end of the Vietnam War. Initially it had problems with its government giving priority to military supremacy in the region for some years which negatively impacted its citizens. It has since focussed more on production and trade, making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Eastern European countries including Yugoslavia, Romania and Czechoslovakia suffered at the hands of brutal despots who, like the Soviets abused their own citizens. Interestingly, there were brief flirtations with Marxism in the politics of these nations. At those times, their economies improved. Whilst they focussed on power and genocide, their economies suffered. The below precis does not seek to glorify the murderous rule of tyrants, it seeks to show that when the tyrants actually focussed on Marxist reform there were significant improvements. These countries would have benefitted from Socialism - had it actually been implemented properly.
Yugoslavia under Tito saw significant industrial reform which increased productivity and employment. Tito broke away from the Soviet Union and was subject to various attempts to subvert his leadership and to undermine the Yugoslav economy. For a brief period, Tito even relinquished some of the central control of the population, allowing citizens greater say and rights. Tito was able to unite the many fractured groups within Yugoslavia. Tito's government had held the fragile, nationalistic fabric of Yugoslavian society together, but following his death, the country splintered into ancient rivalries, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Romania under Ceauşescu saw an increase in industrialisation and production, improvements in housing, education and infrastructure, such as public transport.
Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1968 was run effectively by a Communist government, however, in 1968 the government became increasingly capitalist and so the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries invaded, reverting it back to a communist state.
Kibbutzim - whilst not a nation, the socialist operation of the Israeli kibbutz gives an ideal model for socialism, in which all residents worked for the betterment of each other and society in general.
Many successful modern economies combine a blend of socialism and capitalism through Social Democracy, which has been far more effective than the extreme capitalism of the United States. These countries include:
"Which country would you prefer to live in?"
Another question, that will often be asked of any defence of Socialism, or any criticism of the United States, is "which country would you prefer to live in?" Another smug question, yet this is one which assumes that the answer will be the United States. When asking this question, is the person asking the question imagining life in a white and wealthy neighbourhood, with a good job and health care paid by the employer, or imagining life in a lower class suburb, with high unemployment, high illiteracy, low school attendance and no health cover.
If one imagines the USA pictured in sit-coms and Hollywood, then certainly it all looks rosy. However, for a significant number of Americans, the reality is vastly different from this idealistic image. Their reality is not much different to the average citizen in many developing nations.
The answer is that I'd be happy to live in any of the above countries when being run by Socialists, as long as they weren't being attacked by either their leaders or insurgents. Sadly many of the insurgents (and some of the despotic leaders) were funded by the United States.
The question that should be asked is "would you live in Nicaragua or Guatemala as they are being subjected to massacre after massacre at the hands of US funded Contras? Would you like to live in Indonesia, as your family is being massacred at the hands of the capitalist, US funded Suharto? Would you like to live in Chile under the capitalist, US funded Pinochet?" Perhaps another question that could be asked is, "would you like to live in a country that the USA has 'brought democracy' to?"
Perhaps, people don't wish to live in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Indonesia regardless of the political system. So would you like to live in the USA in a neighbourhood that is not white and wealthy?
Personally, I would not like to live in the United States. I would chose to live in a Social Democracy because most do not have human rights violations and most provide a better form of wealth redistribution to ensure that the poor have the opportunity for education, health and employment. The USA economy is a basket case, the politicians are more interested in power than their own poor. Social Democracies, whilst not necessarily Marxist, have at least embraced the best of Socialism without the perversion of Stalinism or Capitalistic greed.
Socialism in its purest form is egalitarian, fairer and provides the best chance for all citizens to participate in and contribute to their nation, than the selfish, exploitative policies of Capitalism.
Related articles on RantingPanda.com:
1. Animal Farm - an allegory of greed, power and exploitation
2. The fruit of capitalism - rotten to the core
3. Socialism versus Capitalism