by Craig Collins
By the mid-20th century, Marx’s conviction that socialism was destined to replace capitalism appeared to becoming reality. In 1956, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was so confident that history was on his side, he boasted that socialism would soon bury capitalism. Most of the Eurasian land mass was governed by communist parties that claimed to be building socialism. U.S. propaganda films depicted maps of a malignant red menace spreading around the world.
Back then, the globe was commonly divided into three worlds: the developed capitalist nations became known as the first world; the second world encompassed the self-proclaimed “socialist” nations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; and the third world included Europe’s former colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In China and several other third world countries, communist-led national liberation movements were driving out Western imperialism and endeavoring to transform their backward peasant economies into modern socialist states.
However, even then, there were clear signs that genuine democratic socialism had failed to materialize. While the Marxist leaders of the second world claimed to be building socialism, the authoritarian, centrally planned industrial states they ruled bore little resemblance to the egalitarian, working class democracies Marx and Engels had in mind. By the latter half of the 20th century, working people throughout the second world, from Hungary and Czechoslovakia to Poland, were openly rebelling against the “socialist workers’ states” that claimed to represent them.
In hindsight, with the heavy ideological fog of the Cold War behind us, it is obvious that the state-run industrial systems that both sides mislabeled socialist were never working class governed democracies. So actually, socialism didn’t fail—it never existed. But that doesn’t explain why the powerful state-run industrial societies of the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China—that everyone had falsely branded socialist—failed to thrive and eventually reentered the world capitalist system.
This turn of events was especially vexing for old school Marxists and communists. They wanted to believe that these statist industrial societies were genuine socialist democracies at the vanguard of history, leading humanity down the evolutionary road toward classless communism. After all, why would a socialist nation, supposedly run by and for working people, ever choose to reverse the course of history and rejoin the capitalist system?