According to this fable, in a country such as Chile under Allende, Marxist boys and girls are happily singing and dancing, their faces glowing with love of the downtrodden, while they attempt the joyous task of building a socialist economic system. To be sure, there are also dark forces at work in the fable: again and again, wherever the innocent and happy Marxists go and accomplish their work—Soviet Russia, Communist China, Cuba, and all the other various satellites—impoverishment, enslavement, and mass murder inexplicably always seem to follow.
Of course, according to the fable, this cannot have anything to do with the nature of socialism and the actions of the Marxists who establish it. It just happens. Equally inexplicably, unless it be simply because of their evil nature, mean, nasty men appear, who for no good reason lay hold of the innocent Marxists and beat and kill them, as did Pinochet’s soldiers in Chile in response to the Marxists’ attempt to socialize the economy of that country. What a horror, what an outrage against good and innocent Marxists! Such evil surely deserves to be severely punished!
End of fable.
I have made it part of my life’s work to throw intellectual ice water in the faces of people who have allowed themselves to become so deluded as to accept such a fable. And here, straight from my book Capitalism, is a good-sized bucketful of that intellectual ice water:
“Let us begin by considering the means employed to achieve socialism. We observe two phenomena that are not unrelated. First, wherever socialism has actually been enacted, as in the Communist-bloc countries and Nazi Germany, violent and bloody means have been used to achieve it and/or maintain it. And, second, where socialist parties have come to power but abstained from wholesale violence and bloodshed, as in Great Britain, Israel, and Sweden, they have not enacted socialism, but retained a so-called mixed economy, which they did not radically or fundamentally alter. Let us consider the reasons for these facts.
“Even if a socialist government were democratically elected, its first act in office in implementing socialism would have to be an act of enormous violence, namely, the forcible expropriation of the means of production. The democratic election of a socialist government would not change the fact that the seizure of property against the will of its owners is an act of force. A forcible expropriation of property based on a democratic vote is about as peaceful as a lynching based on a democratic vote. It is a cardinal violation of individual rights. The only way that socialism could truly come into existence by peaceful means would be if property owners voluntarily donated their property to the socialist state. But consider. If socialism had to wait for property owners to voluntarily donate their property to the state, it would almost certainly have to wait forever. If socialism is ever to exist, therefore, it can only come about by means of force—force applied on a massive scale, against all private property.
“Further, in the case of the socialization of the entire economic system, as opposed to that of an isolated industry, no form of compensation to the property owners is possible. In the case of an isolated nationalization, the government can largely compensate the former owners by taxing the rest of the property owners to some extent. If the government seizes all property, however, and simply abolishes private ownership, then there is just no possibility of compensation. The government simply steals everyone’s property lock, stock, and barrel. In these circumstances, property owners will almost certainly resist and try to defend their rights by force if necessary, as they properly should.
“This explains why it takes the Communists to achieve socialism, and why the Social Democrats always fail to achieve socialism. The Communists, in effect, know that they are out to steal all of men’s property from them and that if they expect to succeed, they had better come armed and prepared to kill the property owners, who will attempt to defend their rights. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, are held back by fear from taking the steps that would be necessary to achieve socialism.
“In sum, the essential facts are these. Socialism must commence with an enormous act of theft. Those who seriously want to steal must be prepared to kill those whom they plan to rob. In effect, the Social Democrats are mere con men and pickpockets, who engage in empty talk about pulling the `big job’—socialism—someday, and who flee before the first sign of resistance by their intended victims. The Communists, on the other hand, are serious about pulling the `big job.’ They are armed robbers prepared to commit murder. This is why the Communists are able to implement socialism. Of the two, only the Communists are willing to employ the bloody means that are necessary to implement socialism.”
The preceding paragraphs appear on pp. 282-283 of Capitalism. For explanations of the necessity of terror, forced labor, and mass murder under socialism, such as characterized the bloody history of the Soviet Union, Communist China, and the numerous Communist satellites, see pp. 283-290 of Capitalism.
The above analysis applies to Chile at the time of General Pinochet’s coup. At that time, President Allende, despite having been elected with only 36 percent of the vote, was aggressively pressing ahead, as even The New York Times’ largely hostile obituary admits, “with a Socialist program to nationalize mines, banks and strategic industries, split up large rural estates into communal farms, and impose price controls.” (Not surprisingly, such measures, as The Times notes, “soon resulted in steep declines in production, shortages of consumer goods and explosive inflation.”)
The essential point here is that a massive armed robbery on the part of the Marxist Allende government was actually in progress. It possessed armed “militias” and was using them to seize people’s property. According to The Wall Street Journal’s obituary, the regime was also acting in clear defiance of the Chilean Supreme Court, which denounced it for “`an open and willful contempt of judicial decisions’” that created the threat of an “`imminent breakdown of legality.’”
So long as Marxists are content merely to write, speak, and otherwise fantasize about the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of socialism, they have every right to be left alone, just as every one else has who harms no one but himself. But when they begin to act out their fantasy in the real world and commit armed robbery, which, as I have shown, is the only means of achieving their goal, then they forfeit their rights, including their right to life.
The right to life, liberty, and property, which every man possesses, carries with it the right to self-defense. Exercise of the right of self-defense includes killing those who are an imminent threat to one’s life. It includes killing those who are an imminent threat to one’s life in one’s attempt to defend one’s property, which is what armed robbers always are, Marxist or otherwise. If the Marxists killed or beaten in Chile had wanted to avoid such treatment, they should have stayed home, written another book or article, given another lecture or speech, or gone to another protest meeting or rally. They should not have set out to steal other people’s property.
True enough, all the writing, speaking, and peaceful protest in the world have no prospect of ever achieving socialism, because they will never persuade very many people to voluntarily donate their property to a socialist state. So at bottom, it must all be futile, unless at some point it erupts into violent action.
The implication of this is that unless Marxists can be satisfied, as the Social Democrats have apparently learned to be, with merely partial and largely token movement toward their goal, such as provided by the establishment and expansion of the welfare state, they are doomed to permanent frustration. At the same time, those of them who continue to be committed to the actual achievement of their goal of socialism, cannot be expected to tolerate such frustration permanently. At some point, it would seem, almost inevitably, they must erupt into violent action, because that is the only path that can ever achieve their goal.
Such Marxists, such socialists, i.e., the serious, dedicated ones, are not at all saints or martyrs, but dangerous people with a criminal mentality.
This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.