I am often amazed at how, more than two decades after the Cold War ended, people can still talk about capitalism and socialism as if they are legitimate competitors in the battle of ideas.
While this is evident in the West, it is especially nonsensical here in the Third World. Extreme poverty abounds, clearly, as a direct result of excessive government intervention in the economy, yet the excitement and colorfulness of socialism still captures the imagination of the masses. The idea that prosperity can be academized into existence is alluring!
The fact of the matter is, however, that there is no ‘debate’ between these two fundamentally different concepts.
Whereas free market capitalism is an economic state of affairs, socialism is a political ideology. While capitalism does have many ‘theories’ and ‘ideas’ within the philosophy that developed around it, without any conscious intervention or development, it would still exist. Children, without knowing any of the ‘ideas’ of capitalism, share and exchange for mutual benefit.
Socialism, on the other hand, is so foreign to human nature that it required philosophers and intellectuals to create it out of thin air. And hundreds of millions have had to die in the pursuit of this ideology. The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia is perhaps one of the most striking examples of this.
In just four years between 1975 and 1979 the Communist Party in Cambodia slaughtered up to two million people in an attempt to create a fundamentally ‘new’ society. The regime even formulated the notion of ‘Year Zero’, where practically all Cambodian history, tradition, and culture had to be destroyed and the society effectively ‘restarted’ in the socialist image. Anyone who the regime believed was potentially incompatible with their socialistic vision for Cambodia was summarily killed – intellectuals, people who wore glasses, and generally anyone who was urbanized. Those who escaped slaughter became ‘New People’ (and the regime despised the new; it sought a return to Cambodia’s mystical agrarian past), who were effectively slaves. The regime said of these ‘new’ people, “To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.”
Now, try to think of a regime in history which ‘implemented’ ‘capitalism’ in the same way.
Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile is definitely not an instance of this. ‘Suppression of socialism’ does not equal ‘implementation of capitalism.’ The United States’ slaughter of Native Americans was not an instance of this, as that could more more easily be ascribed to the socialistic mentality of control-based growth. In fact, I doubt either of these two oft-cited examples were done in the pursuit of capitalism. The South African Apartheid regime is also often cited, yet Apartheid leaders condemned the free market throughout the period of their rule.
Capitalism ‘becomes’ implemented when government steps back, in the same way that light is ‘implemented’ onto a surface when an obstruction clears out of the way. Free market capitalism is the result of the mostly unconscious conduct of ordinary people which occurs without them being libertarians or’conscious’ capitalists.
Socialism, on the other hand, needs to be implemented. Mind you, it can never work – socialism has never achieved its purpose of equality and prosperity for all, whereas capitalism, which has no purpose, has consistently led to relative prosperity.
These two ways of thinking about the world are not legitimate, bona fide competitors in the battle of ideas. Capitalism won the battle of ideas when the first blood was spilled in the name of socialism. Just like there is no ‘debate’ between rape and consensual sex, or a ‘debate’ between drinking water or cyanide for your health, there is no debate between socialism and capitalism. And we shouldn’t treat it like a debate.
This post was written by Martin van Staden.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.