Of course, bold socialists intent on destroying rather than reforming capitalism have brought about some rather unpleasant historical outcomes.
Lest anyone imagine that the authors are unaware, they include words nodding to potential pitfalls. Here is that unintentionally extraordinary passage: “Socialists don’t just want to replace private ownership with state ownership,” Desan and McCarthy argue. “In the same way we don’t believe that capitalists should be able to have disproportionate control over economic resources, we don’t think unaccountable state officials and bureaucrats should have the power to control investment and production through ‘socialism from above.’ In some cases, like the former Soviet Union,” they add, “the failings of such a system are nearly as deep as those of capitalism itself.”
Set aside the fact that no socialist revolutionaries ever started out intending to be commanded and controlled by unaccountable bureaucrats—a fairly ordinary failure of late-socialist thinking—and focus on the claim that Soviet failings were nearly as deep as capitalism’s failings.
(See update below.)
Ponder what it means for that final clause to be written by two college professors and published in a leading intellectual journal of socialism—consider what they characterize as just barely preferable to what we’ve got.
As the Soviet Union began, a famine in 1921 and 1922 killed perhaps 5 million people. At the time, the United States Congress appropriated $20 million from America’s capitalist economy to help feed emaciated Russians, sparing countless more from literal starvation.
A decade later, Communist economic planners triggered another epidemic of mass starvation as they forced peasant farmers off their land.
“At the height of the crisis,” Anne Applebaum recounted, “teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible … At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food.”
Yet another Soviet famine began in 1947. The Cambridge Journal of Economics published an analysis of the human devastation that it wrought. The University of Amsterdam economist Michael Ellman explained:
The best estimate that can currently be given of the number of excess deaths is the range 1 to 1.5 million … During the famine, surplus stocks in the hands of the state seem to have been sufficient to have fed all those who died of starvation. The famine was a FAD2 (preventable food availability decline) famine, which occurred because a drought caused a bad harvest and hence reduced food availability, but, had the priorities of the government been different, there might have been no famine (or a much smaller one) despite the drought.
For perspective, one tally of all the Americans who died in combat from the Revolutionary War to the most recent skirmish in the War on Terror, including all those killed in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, comes to 666,441 lives, with another 673,929 military personnel dying in those wars outside of combat. So that’s 1.35 million total deaths due to war over 242 years of American history.