Each Generation Needs to Confront the Reality of Socialism

January 21, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020


Oscar Wilde once quipped that second marriages were the triumph of hope over experience—that having failed once at something as challenging as “til death do us part,” the odds of succeeding a second time are iffy.

And yet millions of people still give it a try, on the theory that, this time, somehow, they’ll get it right.

What are we to make, then, of the current vogue for socialism and even crypto-communism, as espoused by leading Democratic candidates for president such as avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and soak-the-rich Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and cheered by the Ivy League-educated media?

The collectivist and confiscatory policies of these two geriatric baby boomers (Sanders, who recently suffered a heart attack is 78; Warren is 70) are a throwback to earlier periods in U.S. history when overt socialists such as Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, and Henry Wallace ran for president multiple times between 1900 and 1948 on the Socialist or Progressive tickets.

None of them won, of course, but their ideological compatriots in Italy, Germany, and Russia succeeded with various iterations of a socialist-Marxist philosophy; the classically communist USSR owned the means of production, while Italian Fascism and German National Socialism settled for putting private industry at the service of the state, to much the same effect. The result in Europe and, later, in China, was millions of deaths in the service of a malignant and inhuman ideal. As the saying went, you couldn’t make an omelet without breaking some heads—er, eggs.

In 1904, when Debs made the first of his four serious attempts at the presidency at the top of the Socialist Party of America’s ticket, communism was still just a gleam in Karl Marx’s dead eye. But World War I upended the international order, leaving the path open for socialist revolutions in Bavaria, Hungary, and, most successfully, in Russia. And although communism eventually collapsed in Russia as well, its threat—and pernicious appeal—continues.

Since Marx first published the “Communist Manifesto” in the revolutionary year of 1848, defenders of economic freedom and personal liberty have had to contend with its pernicious ideals of “tolerance,” “equality,” and “fairness”—the velvet gloves first fashioned during the French Revolution that conceal the iron fists of coercive totalitarianism. And although socialist systems fail time and again, its true believers maintain that it really hasn’t been properly tried yet.

So the left keeps trying: “Progressivism” reared its head again in 1972, when George McGovern captured the Democratic nomination that year (and was soundly defeated by Richard Nixon), and flared up again during the “fundamental transformation” presidency of Barack Obama.

Now, after its 2016 setback by Donald Trump, it’s back once more, hiding behind the label of “democratic socialism,” a deadly lie that seems to have a special appeal to young voters who have confused “socialism” with public works and Christian charity, and view political correctness (a notion invented by Leon Trotsky) as merely enforced good manners.

Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall abruptly fell when the Soviet satellite state of East Germany realized it couldn’t contain its captive peoples’ desire for freedom and, on the evening of Nov. 9, unexpectedly announced the opening of the checkpoints through to the West.

I was in Berlin, sledgehammer in hand, as the Wall came down. As it happens, I was also in the Soviet Union around the time of the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, which signaled the end of the USSR. That came on Christmas Day that year, when Marxism-Leninism permanently landed in the ash heap of history. Or so we thought.

We were wrong. Each generation, it now seems clear, needs to confront collectivism anew. As Ronald Reagan noted, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

It has largely become an intergenerational battle as well, with idealistic young people with little or no experience of life—many of them educated by Marxist professors—rallying to the cries of diehard leftists. They seek to right real or imagined injustices while also hoping to get everything for free, including health care, education, and a lifelong gratis lease on their parents’ basements.

It’s no use describing to them what we saw in 1989: the “Ossis” weeping with joy as they set foot in the West for the first time, their joy as—like something out of the “Wizard of Oz”—the dull black-and-white movie of their existence under communism suddenly turned to Technicolor on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate.

It’s no use because showing, not telling, is the best way to convince them not to heed the siren song of collectivism: that what results is not Scandinavian order (itself now fraying badly, especially in Sweden) but Venezuelan chaos. That if you want to see environmental destruction and pollution, go to Cuba or China, not the United States or western Europe.

In the 1960s, we had the Peace Corps that sent idealistic youth into benighted countries offering assistance. Perhaps what we need today is a Liberty Corps, not just to assist others but to help our own young people to confront the practice of socialism, not the promise. Let them see firsthand the human and physical destruction that results from the adoption of Satan’s own form of government.

Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism has a first, less quoted, element: “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.” Change the first word to “socialism” and you’ve got a deal.

Michael Walsh is the author of “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” and “The Fiery Angel,” both published by Encounter Books.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.