To the Editor:
The COMMENTARY symposium, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy” [April], is instructive because it illustrates that, as Carl Gershman points out, “too many people seem willing to give up too much too quickly.” For example, William Barrett testifies as follows:
. . . what strikes me as strange is why I should have held on so long and tenaciously to this faith in “democratic socialism.” How could we ever have believed that you could deprive human beings of the fundamental right to initiate and engage in their own economic activity without putting every other human right in jeopardy?
Robert Nisbet follows by declaring that totalitarianism is inherent in socialism. He then applauds capitalism for guaranteeing the existence of a private sector.
It seems to me that the comments of Messrs. Barrett and Nisbet are indicative of a tendency among some intellectuals to deny the existence of modern social democracy. Characterized by a mixed economy, political democracy, social legislation, and progressive taxation, social democracy is not capitalist but it does include a private sector. It is, I believe, the most effective system for guaranteeing some degree of equality, freedom, and efficiency. Also important is the fact that social democracy, in its best tradition, is firmly anti-totalitarian.
Indeed, these attributes of social democracy, together with the unfortunate appeal of Eurocommunism, underscore the need for the rebirth of a social-democratic consensus. A commitment by various political wings of the Western intellectual community (social democrats, liberals, perhaps even some conservatives) to genuine social democracy will provide us not only with an effective strategy for the pursuit of social justice, but also with a defense against the “totalitarian temptation.”
To the Editor:
Of capitalism, socialism, and democracy, Peter L. Berger writes, “Intellectuals have kept busy for well over a century redefining [these] three entities,” and so they have—usually to advance a position rather than to provide a descriptive definition. Curiously, though, the symposium contributors do not on the whole disagree on the meaning of capitalism, or even of democracy.
Socialism is harder, even, in Charles Frankel’s words, “assuming we can give a recognizable content to this increasingly elusive word.” Evidently it does not mean state ownership of the means of production, for Bayard Rustin and Sidney Hook write (respectively): “Socialism cannot be reduced to an economic formula, a structure of ownership” and “The emphasis must be placed not so much on the legal form of property relations but on the moral ideals. . . .”
I am not asking for mathematical precision, only a rough guide for distinguishing very socialist societies from not-very-socialist societies among the larger modern nations. . . .
Leaving aside the ethereal characterizations (. . . a world of “prideful men and women, with a sense of themselves as members of a community, committed to the general welfare, and capable of acting on that commitment”—Michael Walzer; . . . “a society which seeks the openest possible association of individuals in political and social life; the greatest possible democratization and humanization of work; the highest possible cultivation of personal talents and creativities” . . . —Robert L. Heilbroner) as poetic but lexicographically useless, we do have something like agreement among Kenneth J. Arrow: “An economic system in which the bulk of economic decisions are made in units which are controlled by parts of the state structure or by the workers”; Mr. Berger: a society in which the distribution of scarce commodities and services is governed by acts of political allocation; and Richard Pipes: a society which denies the right of citizens to acquire, hold, and dispose of property. The common theme is state economic control.
By that standard, Nazi Germany seems at least as socialist as Britain or Sweden today: those who would blame Hitler on capitalism had better come up with an equally concrete definition of socialism that excludes the national variety. (Rich supporters cannot be the disqualification, pace Theodore Draper; Milton Friedman points to Frederick Vanderbilt Field and Anita McCormick Blaine. Perhaps something can be made of the fact, adduced by Seymour Martin Lip-set, that the Nazis, hated by the Communists, were opportunistic enough to find allies on the Right, unlike the equally hated social democrats.)
If, in fact, state economic control is the touchstone, then every totalitarian society must be socialist: to recognize a limit to state authority is untotalitarian.
The converse, of course, is false. A socialist state may resist totalitarianism, as may, for that matter, a state without free speech. As to whether the freedom lost is too costly, I will not venture to contradict the learned contributors; but most of them grant . . . that one freedom lost makes further losses easier. Not to fall into the deterministic trap of inevitability, does this ease not make such losses more probable? Or will only good people be elected . . . after the revolution?
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY is to be congratulated for publishing the symposium on capitalism and socialism and the relation of each to democracy. . . .
Of particular interest to me is the grave concern of many of the “socialists” regarding what might best be termed definitional problems. More than a few, it seems, are intent upon defining socialism out of existence. . . . However, . . . there appears to be no confusion or disagreement about the meaning of capitalism. . . . At any rate, the socialists are definitely on the defensive and uncomfortable in their defense. . . .
Beyond question, I believe, the “capitalists” present the more solid case; clearly theirs is the more consistent and historically informed argument. Particularly devastating to the socialist position is the extent to which some socialists have been driven to resort to the manipulation and obfuscation of historical data to sustain their thesis. . . .
Having said that, however, I must observe that Penn Kemble, a member of the National Committee of Social Democrats, USA, makes an important contribution. . . . The challenge Mr. Kemble casts at the feet of the defenders of capitalism is certainly one that needs to be made, and his understanding of the nature of the “totalitarian temptation” is unusually sound. Capitalists will ignore what he has to say at their peril. Too many capitalist entrepreneurs are in the process of betraying both capitalism and freedom; indeed, they are going at it zealously, and the onus is upon the defenders of capitalism to try to put a stop to it. Ultimately, as Mr. Kemble points out, and as others, most notably Solzhenitsyn, have observed, the greatest conflict persists upon a moral plane: to put it as succinctly as possible, the contest is not between capitalism and Communism, or between Communism and democracy, but rather between Communism and the Judeo-Christian ethos. There is nothing in capitalism that renders it immune to the moral danger in question. . . .
Be that as it may, I would put it to Mr. Kemble and his associates that since the problem is rooted in a morally bankrupt materialism, the “totalitarian temptation” is hardly inherent in capitalism per se (as he implies). The authors of détente, whom Mr. Kemble adduces to bolster his argument, were not obeying any capitalist imperative. As for those who have used capitalism as a pretext for capitulation, that is what it is, a pretext, not a cause. It is a significant fact, one overlooked by Mr. Kemble, that virtually all of the fellow-travelers and apologists for totalitarianism to be found in the democratic West come from the ranks of the anti-capitalist Left. . . .
Neil G. Barclay
Salt Lake City, Utah
To the Editor:
Reading Eugene D. Genovese’s contribution to the symposium gave me the feeling that I was witnessing the second coming of Karl Marx—and on a very bad day, when his carbuncles were aflame.
I was also reminded of the old master’s opening remarks in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “. . . that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice, . . . the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” . . .
Chatham, New York
To the Editor:
A good many—though not all—of the contributors to your symposium, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy,” confuse socialism and Communism, and actually use the word socialism when they are describing Communism. . . .
I was for many years an active socialist. Socialists define socialism as public ownership and democratic management of the large-scale means of production, distribution, and exchange. . . . There would be in a socialist state varying degrees of democratic management of different industries and perhaps, in different parts of the country, varying interpretations of large-scale means of production, etc.
In other words, socialists want not only to preserve political democracy, but to extend democracy into industry through government ownership and trade-union action. In fact, social democracy is another term for socialism. Communists, on the other hand, destroy democracy and establish by force a one-party dictatorship. . . .
It is asserted by many contributors that capitalism provides freedom because it provides a “free market.” But such a free market hardly exists for an unemployed worker, or even a worker in a community where one big company dominates the area. Also, the freedom to engage in certain industries does not really exist where the type of business is dominated by a few oligopolies. Capitalism effectively denies freedom to unemployed workers and to workers who are afraid to complain about their conditions of work for fear of being laid off.
With the exception of Robert Lekachman, most of the contributors completely overlook the fact that what they call democracy is more nearly akin to plutocracy than to the true ideal of one man, one vote, with each man having the same degree of influence on the government and the economy.
Charles E. Lindblom also recognizes this fact when he says: “Capitalism is now a barrier to a more fully developed democracy because it is a system of inequality in the distribution of power.”
Alfred Baker Lewis
To the Editor:
As well-conceived and informative as is the exchange of views in the April issue, there is a dimension to the question of the chances for survival of democratic socialism which is not given sufficient attention. The discussion ought not to center on whether socialists are closet totalitarians, while capitalists are not, or vice versa. . . . It is of far greater importance to examine whether—given human nature—the promises of socialism can be realized through any methods short of the dictatorial, even if one grants the sincerity of the professed attachment to personal and political liberty of the democratic socialists.
Recent events in the United States and Western Europe have much to teach us here. The willingness of civil servants (and workers in private industry subject to government injunctions) to strike in opposition to even the highest elected representatives of a community to relieve an (imagined or real) economic injustice gives an indication of the confrontations likely to develop in a fully socialized economy. . . .
While it is true that not all socialists promise an egalitarian salary structure in their projections, they all do promise to politicize economic distribution; i.e., to make it rational, structured, and palatable to the community’s sense of justice. Pay will be determined, they promise, by some coherent standard—usually an individual’s needs or his social contribution. They call for an end to the haphazard distribution of the free market. . . .
Elected socialist leaders, then, will have to explain to the electorate why they reward certain segments of the economy more than they do others—or they will have to pay all workers a near-to-identical salary, which, as the Russian experience indicates, is an unlikely prospect as long as incentives for production remain a concern.
But whatever the decision, the problem will be that everyone will be convinced he ought to be paid more than everyone else. . . . It is difficult to picture a government-determined wage policy which will satisfy this economic discontent. Like it or not, it seems inevitable that a government responsible for the entire economic output of a society will need, and call for, muscle—dictatorial muscle—to enforce its wage determinations. . . .
Considerations of this sort are what led Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton to prefer, in opposition to the state centralization advocated by George Bernard Shaw and the Webbs, a politicization of the economy designed to decentralize property ownership and to maximize opportunities for self-reliance and independence: the seemingly—and unfortunately—lost cause of distributism. In his The Servile State, Belloc warned that both socialism and modern capitalism tend to solve their problems by calling for the support of the coercive arm of the state.
James K. Fitzpatrick
Mahopac, New York
To the Editor:
The twenty-six contributors to the symposium make only a few superficial references to Lenin. But for Lenin, however, the problems stated by the editors could not have been posed. Marxism, by the late 19th century, had been integrated into the Western marketplace of ideas. It was quiescent. Just as revolutionary Christianity soon accommodated itself to Caesarism, so its descendant of the industrial period, also preaching that the meek would inherit the earth, became national trade unionism. . . . After the demise of the Paris Commune in 1871, the major Marxists simply gave up on a revolution starting in the West, probably because they were impressed by the rapidly improving living standards of proletarians in the booming centers of late 19th-century capitalism. In 1877, Marx predicted a revolution in “the formerly impregnable citadel and reserve army of counterrevolution,” that is, Russia. . . .
By about 1896, Lenin had begun to write his massive study, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, which was designed to prove that Marxism was applicable to a peasant society. This book provided the statistical rationale for What Is to Be Done?, a work whose influence has proved to be far more effective than The Communist Manifesto or Capital in challenging the industrial West. . . .
Practical revolutionary warfare—i.e., Leninism—and not vague theorizing about economics is the heart of the matter when one speaks of the “socialist” challenge to capitalism and democracy. Leninism, not socialism, has successfully unified the former colonial peoples of the world into a swiftly advancing Malthusian army. If the Kremlin appears at this time to be in the vanguard of this global holy war, it is only because the Third World needs advanced military technology. But Moscow itself is very nervous about the long-range aspirations of the ragtag forces it commands.
What we are witnessing, and experiencing, . . . is the long anticipated decline of the West, which Lenin, in a most fortuitous propaganda phrase, equated with the “dying beast of capitalism.” By 1907, Lenin had restructured Marxism to fit the needs of the Russian peasants, as he viewed them. His writings of about a decade later expanded “Russian peasant Marxism” to the peasants of the entire world. Lenin joined Nechayevan amorality to the military teachings of Clausewitz. He is the spiritual father of Mao, Castro, Giap, the PLO, the Red Brigades, the current United Nations, and a lot more.
The phenomenon of Eurocommunism or, more accurately, Euro-American Communism, is implicit in the above, since Lenin, after 1919, anticipated this development as an inevitable consequence of liberation from the imperialism of the colonial world.
Capitalism, dependent upon colonial conquest since the 15th century, is engaged in a life and death struggle with national-liberationist anti-Westernism. This is the framework within which the conflict between so-called capitalism and so-called socialism should be discussed. . . .
Stanley W. Page
Department of History
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . In the opening statement of the symposium, the editors assert that to a growing number of intellectuals, capitalism seems to be a necessary condition, although not a guarantee, of democracy; whereas a society that makes personal freedoms secondary . . . to the achievement of socialist goals is “ineluctably drawn” toward totalitarianism. By the most generous interpretation, only ten (39 per cent) of the respondents accept this formulation.
I was interested in seeing whether the respondents agreed with Schumpeter’s analysis . . . namely, that if one defines democracy as a competitive political process, it is compatible with either capitalism or socialism. As I read the responses, fifteen (58 per cent) disagree with Schumpeter, while eleven (42 per cent) agree with him. . . .
Of course, the problem is more complicated than a matter of definition. Three (12 per cent) of the respondents seem to accept the proposition that the issue of democracy depends upon a prior choice for either capitalism or socialism. A small group of five (20 per cent) deny that the problem is primarily a contest between economic systems, asserting that the controlling issue is one of freedom versus tyranny, or that it must be resolved by a prior political commitment to democratic values and institutions, to which economic considerations are instrumental and subordinate. Nine (34 per cent) appear to be arguing that historical realities and trends require a new theory, or a better theory, which will enable us to realize something called social democracy, market socialism, or democratic socialism. Nine (34 per cent) place the highest value upon liberty, are deeply skeptical of the connection between egalitarian socialism and freedom, and rest their faith in . . . democratizing capitalism. . . .
I conclude from the sampling that a small minority of American intellectuals see the relationship among capitalism, socialism, and democracy as either primarily economic or primarily political (eight, or 32 per cent). The majority (eighteen, or 68 per cent) are almost equally divided between the desirability of democratic socialism and that of liberal-democratic capitalism. . . .