Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of the organization. BUnow has not independently confirmed any of the ‘historical facts’ presented and welcomes readers’ comments and clarifications.
My initial opinion piece on Bernie Sanders earned quite the attention and interaction. I appreciate many of the comments, even though I may disagree with many of them. I especially want to thank Professor Pat Trosky for her insightful comment.
Since my article’s publication, BUnow published a Bucknell student’s rebuttal to my article that was more of a stand-alone piece than a completely direct, point-by-point response.
As timely and important this topic of discussion is now, I think it’s important to address this. This is also a political topic I not only have strong opinions about, but feel most comfortable arguing, as to me it is not merely a contemporary political issue, but a matter of historical and philosophical importance.
Contrary to some commenters’ claims, I don’t derive most of my opinion by watching Fox News or MSNBC, but rather the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman tradition the West was built on. In this article I will be addressing socialism and communism, from a mainly historical perspective. This is the first part of a summarized history of socialism, with a second part to follow.
Early American Socialism/Communism
Although concepts of socialism may have been conceptualized in Ancient Greece, the earliest example of pre-Marxist communism seems to be in Plymouth, Mass. in 1620. This is prior to the industrial revolution and many economic thinkers.
Plymouth colony was founded by Puritan Protestant Christians from England, who believed in charity and frugality. They were known for their strong work ethic due to their religious convictions. They believed their time on Earth was limited, which meant they effectively managed their time to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs. Here are some key Bible verses that illustrate their motivations.
Psalm 90:12- “So teach us to number our days, so that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (King James Version)
Ephesians 5:15-16- “Be careful, then, how you live, not as unwise–but wise, making most of the opportunity because the days are evil.” (New International Version)
Collosians 3:23-24- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (New International Version)
This is what constructed the motivations of the Christian West that Max Weber would later describe as “The Protestant Work Ethic.”
After arriving in the New World with the opportunity to create a new society, they decided to try something new: sharing resources. It seemed ideal, after all. A new world, a new society governed by new rules. So Plymouth colony abolished private property and established everything as communal, and expected everyone to pitch in to do the work. After two and a half years, two-thirds of the population died off from starvation. This led to what is now the famous Thanksgiving Feast.
Leader of the Puritan colony, William Bradford, later observed the reason for their near demise.
“…and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times–the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God.”
A few centuries later, after the nation was founded, utopian societies were formed in hopes of achieving peace and prosperity. Disillusioned with American industrialization and capitalism, many artists and scientists wanted to be freed up to work on passion projects, so they started communes. All ended in disbandment, some shorter than others. Most of them ended in a dispute over resources, especially money. They lasted from seven months to a few years. The only exception being the Shakers, who sold furniture and have one small community in rural Maine.
The difference between something like Plymouth colony and these “utopias” is that Plymouth was an established society in the wilderness, and would have starved to death if it wasn’t for the Native Americans’ help. American communes were an escape from established civilization, and upon failure, went back to its safe confines.
The most notable examples of socialism and communism start in Tsarist Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. After the violent overthrow of the Tsars, Vladimir Lenin installed socialistic measures. Famous for stating that the end goal of socialism is communism, he reconsidered its effectiveness once the population started to starve from famine. He hoped to institute some capitalist measures in the New Economic Policy to prevent revolt.
After he died, Joseph Stalin took power and continued the socialist vision of modernizing the Soviet Union. He didn’t institute Lenin’s New Economic Policy, instead forcibly moving peasants to work in state farms. Many resisted and were put in concentration camps or killed. The ones that didn’t die of starvation. Directly due to these actions, Ukraine experienced famine and 10 million people died during this time. Stalin himself killed numerous opponents and dissidents, eventually leading to future leaders like Nikita Krushev denouncing him. After World War 2, when the Soviet Union controlled Eastern Germany, the fruits of communism were also brutally realized. By 1989, the repudiation of communism was shown when native Germans tore down the despised Berlin Wall that had separated their families for decades.
Many comments and the rebuttal I received made the argument that comparing Bernie’s socialistic proposals to anything similar to the Soviet Union and China was unfair—a “post-Cold War” conception. But it’s not that disparate, as Sanders had his honeymoon in the Soviet Union and has praised several socialist/communist regimes. He praised the Soviet Union’s public transportation system and healthcare costs (contrary to quality), and it collapsed a few years later. At the very least, he should be held accountable for his lousy judgment.
This concludes the first part of my history section. I will expand on this further in another article.