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The Future of Socialism

THINK TANK WITH BEN WATTENBERG
#1319 SOCIALISM
FEED DATE: July 7, 2005
Joshua Muravchik
Christopher Hitchens

Opening Billboard: Funding for Think Tank is provided by...
(Pfizer) At Pfizer, weíre spending over five billion dollars looking
for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health
experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion.
Pfizer, life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz
Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry
Bradley Foundation.

WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. By the 1970s, roughly 60
percent of the earthís population lived under governments that espoused
socialism in one form or another. But this is the era of free market
economics. In Britain, Tony Blair has changed what it means to be a
socialist. Israelís famed kibbutz system, once the ideal of socialist
utopianism has withered and what is left is now part of the market
economy. And China is redefining its own brand of communism. What is
the future of socialism?
To find out, Think Tank is joined by Joshua Muravchik, resident
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book
Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, now a three-hour
PBS documentary. And Christopher Hitchens, journalist, critic, frequent
contributor to a variety of publications and author of many books
including his most recent, Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.
The topic before the house: the future of socialism, this week on
íThink Tankí.

WATTENBERG: Josh Muravchik, Christopher Hitchens, welcome both to
íThink Tankí. Letís take a look at a clip from the PBS special, based
on your book, Heaven On Earth, about your original country and the
Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Letís just take a look at that.

VIDEO CLIP FROM HEAVEN ON EARTH:

NARRATOR: Social democratic parties were making a comeback across
Europe. By the late 1990s they governed twelve of the fifteen states in
the European Union. But many of these parties looked less and less like
the socialists of the past.
The most daring revisionist was Britainís Tony Blair, who led the
Labour to victory in 1997 with a landslide vote. The party, as Blair
recreated it, was a far cry from the party of Attlee.

ROY HATTERSLEY: What we wanted more than anything else was to be back
in government, and it seemed that Tony Blair would do that by making
what amounted to a clean start. Many Labour Party people did not
realize how much of social democracy he intended to abandon.

END OF CLIP

WATTENBERG: Is it fair to say that the Labour Party in the United
Kingdom is still a socialist party?

HITCHENS: Not in any sense that would have been recognizable to me
when I joined it many years ago, forty years ago, now, no. Because it
completely accepts that the permanence of the capitalist free
enterprise system Ė it doesnít even propose to replace it, even in some
distant Utopian future. Itís made a final peace with that.
On the other hand, it does have - or the Labour Government
has managed to combine this with an economy thatís very nearly a full
employment one for the first times since the Second World War - almost
nobody is looking for a job and canít find one, with a very high level
of welfare spending and socialist safety net - and with something
thatís very important to me, which is internationalism. In other
words, Prime Minister Blair considers it a matter of principle that we
donít coexist - our party doesnít coexist with totalitarian or racist
or aggressive or theocratic regimes or movements, and has sent British
forces to defend Sierra Leone against the hand loppers and barbarians
who were sent in from Liberia to Afghanistan to oppose the Taliban, and
to Iraq to assist in the liberation long overdue of Mesopotamia. The
finest traditions I think of the socialist movement have always been
internationals and in solidarity. And on that, I think he scores very
high. And on that his conservative opponents have behaved
disgracefully.

WATTENBERG: Okay. Josh?

MURAVCHIK: I think that Blair is the first of the social democratic
leaders of Europe to recognize that capitalism is here to stay and
ought to be here to stay. That the goal of people who consider
themselves social democrats shouldnít be to slowly step by step get rid
of capitalism, but just to modify it to make sure that thereís some
protections for the people who get left behind, and there are such
people.
But in addition to that, I think Blair recognizes that even
in that more modest mission there are ultimately limits. That is, you
can tap into the wealth thatís created by capitalism to provide a
social safety net, but that wealth isnít inexhaustible. And also one
has to have an eye to the sort of economic efficiency of the system so
that it keeps generating the wealth. At a certain point if you make
welfare state too large it does start to be too big a tax on the
efficiency of the system. So you have to make some compromises, even
if youíre a social democrat.

WATTENBERG: Okay, give us a little biography. Where you were born, etc,
but mostly establishing your socialist credentials and the sort of
hegira that you have gone through.

MURAVCHIK: Ben, I grew up in a socialist household. My parents were
devoted members of the Socialist Party. Around the age of 20 I became
the national leader of a group called the Young Peopleís Socialist
League.

WATTENBERG: And then what happened?

MURAVCHIK: Sort of two things happened. One is I became Ė I came to
feel that the most virulent enemies of the things that I believed Ė the
socialist ideals that I held dear, which were democratic ideals - that
the most virulent enemies of that were not on the Right but were people
who were on the Left but further to my left. And so even though I was
still a man of the Left I spent a Ė the larger part of my energies
fighting against people who were further to my left. Over a period of
years, though, I think this pushed me further toward the Right and I
began to reconsider the whole idea of socialism, whether there was
something basically flawed in that idea and I came to think that there
was.

WATTENBERG: Christopher Hitchens, how about you? Again, where you were
born, your intellectual pathway...

HITCHENS: Well, not into a socialist household. I came from a naval
and military family in England. My mother was a descendant of those
who left Poland and Germany - just in time, I would rather say - Jewish
and somewhat more liberal than my father. But a fairly conservative
upbringing. And I found their worldview nostalgic and unsatisfactory.
They were sad about things that were definitely over, principally the
British Empire.
I joined the Labour Party in about 1964 when Howard Wilson put an
end to a long period of conservative rule in Britain. I very soon
became disillusioned with him as a Prime Minister, principally because
of his support for the American war in Vietnam. So my experience of
labor anticommunism, social democratic anticommunism, very different
from Joshís in that to me it took the form of supporting what I thought
of then and think of now as a war of aggression and of atrocity. And I
began to hang out with people further to the Left.
In the year 1968, which was when I was 19, it did seem really
thinkable that there might be a world revolution that would put an end
to the division of the world into blocks of nuclear superpowers and
empires. And that was formative for me and I think I stayed loyal to
the ideas Ė some of the ideals of that for at least another two
decades, until I found that I was suffering chronically from
diminishing returns. Having been writing a weekly column for The
Nation magazine, I began to notice something very unpleasant, which was
that the left had become a status quo force. It didnít want regime
change in the Middle East, for example; it wasnít prepared to stand up
to fascism in former Yugoslavia; it wasnít prepared to resist National
Socialism on the part of Slobodan Milosevic. And my final break with
the left came when it began to exhibit signs of sympathy for jihadism:
third world totalitarianism in the most fervent form.

WATTENBERG: Let me just make one distinction clear here for our
viewers. There are democratic forms of socialism and non-democratic
forms of socialism. Is it fair to say that communism is a non-
democratic form of socialism, and what we call social democracy - or
socialism - is a democratic form of socialism where the people vote for
it?

HITCHENS: Well, it would be nice if that formal separation could be
made but itís not historically true. The big split in the Left begins
in July/August 1914 where the democratic socialist parties of the
Second International suddenly betray all their principles and decide
that they will ally themselves with Czars and Kaisers and Kings and
Monarchs and armies and militarism, who no oneís voted for, who are not
democratic. So by that betrayal they licensed the view that was held
by many Marxists through large part of the 20th century that wasnít an
absurd belief that socialism probably couldnít be achieved except by
some combination of legal and illegal or constitutional and forcible
means. That there was a class war going on, not just a discussion
about the future. There was an actual conflict in which one had to
prepare to fight.

MURAVCHIK: I think your polemical instincts are getting the better of
you, Christopher. For just the sake of simplicity, there have been
these two broad strains with myriad variations in each in socialist
thought. One of which was that socialism is something inherently
participatory and that it can only be brought about or approximated by
means of voting and peaceful democratic methods. And another strain,
which in essence said the revolution is everything and the goal is what
we must get to and itís fine to do it by violence and itís fine to do
it by dictatorship. If the people donít see the value of it yet,
theyíll see it eventually and in the meantime itís alright to rule by
coercion of force in order to bring this system into being.

HITCHENS: We could both be right Ė I mean I donít want to be too
conciliatory, nor do I want to be too polemical - we could both be
right, but I mean you have to allow for the fact that in very large
portions of the globe the socialist cause could not be advanced by
democratic argument because the sistering powerís despotic, and
furthermore when it wasnít despotic it could become despotic in
response to a socialist challenge, as with the emergence of fascism in
Europe: the reserved strength of the ruling class saying, 'No, no; you
may think you can vote to go left but you canít. Weíll stop this by
force. Weíll drown the parliament in blood. Weíll put an end to
voting.'

WATTENBERG: What about China? Now hereís the biggest country and the
most populous country in the world. It - in theory, at least Ė has
free markets or capitalism, but it is a Ė it is not a free country
under any ranking and I believe it calls itself a communist country.
Is that part of the future of socialism?

MURAVCHIK: I donít think the future so much as a remnant. That is, it
turned out that the method of creating a ruling party, that Lenin
invented first, was a fabulously effective way for a minority of a
population to Ė a relatively small group to gain control and to rule
completely according to their own will and to monopolize power. And
that was done effectively in any number of countries and under the
rubric on the excuse that this was necessary in order to bring about
socialism.
Weíve sort of come full circle in China, in which this group, the
communist party, that monopolized power and given themselves a lot of
perks as well as complete control over the society, has given up on the
excuse that is to bring about socialism. Theyíre happy administering
capitalism in a China that is increasingly a private market economy,
but they donít want to give up their power. Theyíve got a nice system
of self-perpetuation and rule with a lot of benefits for themselves.
And an irony that is Ė a further irony is that you look around the
world at countries that are in various kinds of transition and thereís
a strong argument made that one hears in various places for the Chinese
model - not meaning communism at all but meaning a form of free market,
export driven economic growth ruled over by an antidemocratic clique.

HITCHENS: I think, by they way, when you say free enterprise youíd be
better off saying capitalist because the model thatís being proposed Ė
the Chinese model - say in Iran, is one where thereís capitalism, but
state a very rigid party and theocratic control.

WATTENBERG: Letís look at some specific examples around the world, and
Chris, let me Ė Christopher, let me start with you and ask us about the
Middle East and socialism. I mean, the Baathists were a Ė are a
socialist party, at least in name. Is that correct?

HITCHENS: No, Baathism is not socialism. Itís a form of nationalism
and a form of collectivism, but it is much better described as a form
of fascism and you can see that from the way it is ruled in Iraq and
the way it continues to rule in Syria.
Whereas, the flag that I wear on my lapel, which is that of
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

WATTENBERG: Of Kurdistan.

HITCHENS: Kurdistan. Of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is the party that
produced now the President of Iraq, the elected President, first
elected President Iraqís ever had, Jalal Talabani. Heís also the first
non-Arab to be elected President of an Arab state. His party is a
member of the Socialist International, the old second international of
the American Democratic Left. It seems to me that most people donít
know that this has happened in Iraq, and donít appreciate the fact that
what looks to them like an American imperialist cause is in fact a
cause of democratic reformism as well.
It would be nice, I think, if the United States realized that
itís possible - and this would really count, I suppose, as an irony of
history - that it is the left in the Middle East, as it has been in
Afghanistan and will tomorrow be in Iran, that may be its best ally if
it is serious about this long term democratization project.

WATTENBERG: What do you make of the Israeli situation vis-a-vis
socialism? I mean, youíve had this Utopian Kibbutz collective farm or
manufacturing entity either going out of business completely and just
selling the real estate, or setting up very much within the market
economy where people commute and earn a wage. Is this regarded as a
great change away from the socialist global model?

MURAVCHIK: I think it is, Ben, and little Israel turned out to be the
worldís most fulfilled socialist society for a time. Both the overall
economy run for its first decades by the Israel labor party had a whole
range of socialist rules and the crown jewel in Israeli socialism, or
the Kibbutzim, which were really pure socialist collectives and the
only ones that were - in the world, really, that worked successfully in
complete freedom and were productive. And then ironically they
essentially died out. That is - I think it was all held together by
the intense commitment to this Zionist dream that Ė and the Zionism was
mixed with socialism and there was establishing a Jewish homeland after
2000 years and tremendous emotional investment in that.

WATTENBERG: But...

MURAVCHIK: But once people go down to sort of a Ė once they got
through the pioneering stage and Israel was there and it was
established and this dream had been Ė the Zionist dream had been
achieved, then people started to feel that this socialist way of life
isnít all that itís cracked up to be.


WATTENBERG: Letís talk about one of our favorite countries, which is
the United States of America. How stands socialism, democratic
socialism, the welfare state, call it what you will? Where are we in
this Ė as we ask the question whether wither socialism?

HITCHENS: I think the unique thing about the present moment is that
there isnít a serious group or person in the United States calling
itself or himself or herself socialist anymore. Itís a remarkable fact
capitalism does not face, in this country, a socialist critique
anymore.

WATTENBERG: Is that right?

MURAVCHIK: I think that is right. Whatís also true, not on the
intellectual level but on the sort of the practical level of our social
arrangements is that among democratic societies, they will never go
socialist. When people have the chance to choose they have now
hundreds and hundreds of times in all kinds of places chosen basically
to have a market economy. But itís never a pure market economy and the
relevant debate in democratic society seems to be in a band between,
let us say, thirty percent and fifty percent of the economy. How big
should the public sector be?

WATTENBERG: Alright. In this flat world, so-called, of globalization,
heavy international trade, can socialism survive? Just, thatís a
general proposition.

MURAVCHIK: I think the answer simply is that if socialism had been a
correct theory, a viable idea within individual countries then it would
be globally and it wouldnít be any less effective as a result of
globalization.

WATTENBERG: I mean, your basic idea is that socialism as a theory and
as a philosophy doesnít work because people donít want to necessarily
share; they want they earned.

MURAVCHIK: I think... There would be few dissenters from that, but I
think that also at a deeper level, socialism had an idea of a Ė of
people being knitted together more closely.

WATTENBERG: Knitted.

MURAVCHIK: Knitted together more closely than they really are
comfortable being. People do need to live in societies and the people
do feel patriotism for their country and people are willing to do
things for their community. But socialism had an idea of something
closer to that. That people being with one another like members of one
family. And in fact, thatís wrong. I mean, thatís really what the
Kibbutz experience taught. That I can want to have a certain level of
connectedness to my fellow Americans, and a certain level of
connectedness to the people who live in my community, but then thereís
another level of connectedness that I have with the members of my
family thatís really quite different from those and much more intense
and I donít want to have that same relationship with every other
American.

WATTENBERG: With the state.

HITCHENS: Let alone with the bureaucracy, yes. And I think one more
thing: I think the grandeur of the socialist idea was that humans could
rise to be smarter than the market. The fact of the matter is that
probably humans are not smarter than the market, on one particular
point at any rate, which is very important, which is was that of
innovation. Innovation appears to need some kind of a spur, and once
capitalism had had a second industrial revolution in the form of the
microprocessor and mass communications and miniaturization and so
forth, it made it possible for individuals be, in effect, small
businesses; not just workers.

WATTENBERG: Alright. Letís just finish this very interesting discussion
with one simple question: what can the socialists learn, should they
learn, from the mistakes of the 20th century?

HITCHENS: They should learn that things such as the enlightenment,
secularism, rationality, commitment to reason, canít be taken for
granted. That there will always be very powerful enemies of this. And
they could also learn that in some ways the capitalist system was a
product of reason and rationality and be prepared to make an alliance
with any forces who oppose the return of obscurantism and the original
enemies of humanity which the socialist movement was formed to combat.

MURAVCHIK: I think the ultimate lesson is that socialism was a false
ideal because it asked politics to do more than politics can do, which
is to solve all of lifeís problems and to make life perfect. And I
think the issue in the 21st century is can the democratic tide that has
spread in the world over the last three decades, will it continue to so
that it sweeps over A; the Middle East where its been sorely missing,
and B; China. Those are the two big pockets where tyranny still
prevails. And I think that much of the political life of the coming
decades is going to revolve around not a Utopian ideal but the struggle
for democracy in those two parts of the world.

WATTENBERG: Okay, on that note, Josh Muravchik, Christopher Hitchens,
we thank you very much for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you.
Please remember to send us your comments via email. We think it makes
our program better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

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Funding for Think Tank is provided by...

(Pfizer) At Pfizer, weíre spending over five billion dollars looking
for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health
experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion.
Pfizer, life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz
Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry
Bradley Foundation.

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