It Keeps Pointing Left

15 July 2023
It Keeps Pointing Left - Featured image

Instead of communism and capitalism neatly converging, socialist models now permeate the West, writes Eastern European émigré and former academic Christo Moskovsky.

Several decades ago Convergence Theory predicted the two main socio-political orders—socialism/communism and capitalism—would gradually move towards each other until eventually converging into a single global order. This has not happened—certainly not in the way envisaged in the theory. Socialism has not moved an inch away from what it was like in the middle of the 20th century. Western capitalism has, meanwhile, made decisive strides in the direction of socialism and has come to resemble socialism in an alarmingly large number of respects.

Convergence Theory was originally conceived as a socioeconomic theory in the 1960s by Professor of Economics Clark Kerr. Its most central tenet was that, as they industrialised, developing nations would become more and more like industrialised nations not only in economic terms, but also in social and cultural terms. Ultimately, developing and developed nations would converge along a range of characteristics leading to an essentially unified global culture. An influential political offshoot of Convergence Theory soon emerged, suggesting capitalism would become more socialist (particularly in the social and cultural domain) while socialism would become more capitalist (particularly in the economic domain) until they fully converge. An early formulation of this idea can be found in a 1960 academic paper, ‘Mutual Convergence of the United States and the U.S.S.R. to the Mixed Sociocultural type’ (International Journal of Comparative Sociology, January 1960) by Russian-American sociologist and political activist Pitirim Sorokin:

The dominant type of the emerging society and culture is likely to be neither Capitalistic, not Communistic, but … will be intermediary between the Capitalist and the Communist orders and ways of life. It is going to incorporate most of the positive

values and be free from serious defects of each type.”

The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia of 1979 describes Convergence Theory as:

… a modern bourgeois theory according to which the economic, political, and ideological differences between the capitalist and socialist systems are gradually diminishing, leading ultimately to a merger of the two systems.

The article was highly critical of the convergence idea, arguing it was being promoted by “right and left opportunists and revisionists”. Regardless of that critique (or perhaps because of it), for a period of time the political version of Convergence Theory acquired a great deal of popularity not only in the West, but also among the populace of the Soviet bloc.

For the plebs, work is little more than a nag.

The reader will note that Sorokin’s piece refers to the “Communistic” (versus “Capitalistic”) societies, while the Encyclopaedia entry above talks about the “socialist” (versus “capitalist”) systems. This does not reflect theoretical and/or terminological differences between the two sources: socialism in its essence is (an early form of) communism, as envisaged by Karl Marx.

Several decades later we are in a strong position to assess whether Convergence Theory was borne out in reality. But before we do, we should consider the two central concepts—capitalism and socialism—and what exactly these mean. A critical difference between the two concerns the so-called ‘ownership of the means of production’. In socialism the State owns and controls all business, all factories, all agriculture, all capital. In capitalism, most industry and agriculture are privately owned and run, although the State is involved—to some degree—in domains which can loosely be described as ‘socially sensitive’ such as health, education, public infrastructure, and social welfare. The State—capitalist or socialist—dominates in the field of national security.

The ownership of the means of production aside, it is widely recognised that there are a variety of models of capitalism and socialism. For the sake of this analysis I will sketch an idealised form of Western capitalism (perhaps best represented by the USA) versus Soviet-style socialism (of which North Korea seems to be the ultimate example).

WESTERN CAPITALISM

Here is a brief outline of what I believe to be some of the most defining characteristics of Western capitalism:

Political pluralism: Western liberal democracy is based on a multiparty system whereby two or more political parties compete among each other and offer the general public different political and economic platforms. Regular election cycles enable the public to vote one of the parties in or out. The beauty of the pluralistic system is that it ideally promotes the competition of ideas and ensures political accountability—a political party which betrays its constituents will sooner or later be electorally punished. Regardless of how many times a political party gets re-elected, its political power is temporary.

A politically unaligned security apparatus: Law enforcement and security agencies (including army and police) are ‘politically blind’, focusing strictly on law enforcement and crime prevention. The political affiliation of ‘a person of interest’ in no way influences the operations of a law enforcement agency, let alone determines the outcome of these operations.

Free and independent media: The media’s principal role is not only to provide the public with trustworthy information about the world, but also to keep a close eye on the political class and hold them accountable.

Community of autonomous individuals: Western societies comprise autonomous self-regulating and self-sufficient individuals conducting themselves according to their personal beliefs and values. They pursue individual goals, but typically do so in constructive interaction with other members of the community.

Vibrant mostly privately owned industry: Privately-owned business enterprises operate in competition with each other and provide the public with high-quality goods and services which are abundant and affordable.

Some level of unemployment: Privately-run business does not have the responsibility to provide jobs for everyone, but the capitalist State is sufficiently affluent to dispense relatively generous welfare to the currently unemployed (and, more generally, to economically vulnerable members of the community). Unemployment is regarded as a fundamental defect of the capitalist system, although some unemployment may unfortunately be a necessary component of a vibrant privately-run economy because it serves as a powerful incentive for individuals to perform at the top of their ability in order to gain employment and keep it.

Dignity of work: Work in most cases is not only regarded as a source of income, but also as a way of affirming one’s value as a productive member of the community. Certain professions (such as in healthcare) are regarded as socially prestigious and their representatives are therefore afforded considerable social prominence and communal respect. Most people derive a great deal of satisfaction from their professional achievements, which is why a substantial effort goes into improving one’s professional skills further and further. All this not only contributes to the individual’s personal growth, but also confers substantial benefits to the general community as everyone gains from the higher expertise and productive capacity of individual members.

COMMUNISM

Now, let us turn our attention to some of the defining characteristics of Soviet- style socialism:

A one-party system: One of the first things an incoming communist government does is change the country’s constitution by inserting (usually as #1) the clause that only the communist party has the right to govern the country.

Complete fusion between the State and the security services: Law enforcement agencies and security services are nothing more than an instrument of oppression, a way of keeping the masses under control. Any real or perceived form of opposition to the regime is dealt with brutally.

State-controlled media: In the socialist State the media’s sole function is propaganda; its purpose is not to inform, but to preach the mantras of the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Community consisting of two distinct ‘castes’: The socialist system has two distinct castes: the Nomenklatura (literally, in Russian, ‘the (list of) names’) and the plebs (from the ancient Roman term, plebian, denoting commoner). The former are the ruling class, including all high-ranking members of the communist party, whose power is absolute. The plebs have no real civic rights. For instance, unless they receive an explicit permission by the authorities (and very few actually do), the plebs are not allowed to travel freely outside of the State’s borders or even inside their own country. The plebs are denied the right to pursue their own individual goals or to make their own life choices.

State-owned and controlled industry: There is no private business. The State runs everything and does so in such a spectacularly inefficient fashion that it fails to ensure the availability of even the most basic everyday goods (such as toilet paper) and services.

Centrally planned economy: In an attempt to deal with the monstrous inefficiency of the system, the authorities prepare elaborate five-year plans for economic growth. At the end of each five-year cycle the Nomenklatura loudly proclaims the plan’s huge success and celebrates the country’s ‘outstanding economic achievements’, while the reality on the ground at best remains unchanged or has gotten worse.

Full employment: Mostly for ideological reasons (particularly as a way of demonstrating socialism’s superiority over the ‘rotten’ capitalist system) the State must ensure every adult has a job. But the ‘full employment’ is a myth, because it hides a huge amount of underemployment and unemployment. One of the unintended consequences of socialism’s ‘full employment’ is that the system removes the incentive for high performance, because people know that no matter how little effort they put into their jobs there is virtually no danger of getting fired.

Work is a nag: For the plebs, work is little more than a nag which they gladly put behind as soon as they step out of their workplace. Work does not promote personal or professional growth. Career advancement and promotion are virtually impossible unless your name is on that special list: the Nomenklatura.

Still from The March of History: Mises vs. Marx – The Definitive Capitalism vs Socialism Rap Battle.
Published by AEIR on YouTube

And now we can test Convergence Theory’s central hypothesis according to which, with the passage of time, capitalist nations will become more socialist, and socialist nations will become more capitalist until the two fully converge.

Starting with socialism, the picture seems essentially unchanged. Countries such as China and Cuba remain one-party systems: highly oppressive totalitarian dictatorships, with State-controlled media, State-owned and controlled industry, and a centrally planned economy. In terms of the defining characteristics we proposed, contemporary socialism is not much different from the socialism of 50 or 60 years ago. In short, there is no evidence that socialism has undergone any noteworthy shift towards capitalism altogether.

Capitalism has changed dramatically.

Our review of the defining characteristics of Western capitalism as it is today will reveal that contemporary capitalism has dramatically changed from what it was several decades ago:

Political pluralism no more: The unpleasant reality is that the multi-party system of the contemporary Western world no longer delivers a plurality of views, because our main political players no longer represent different political views or pursue different social, cultural, and economic agendas. Why would someone bother to vote for the Liberals when it is abundantly clear that in government they will be indistinguishable from their Labor mates? The reality is that Labor and the Liberals are virtually on a unity ticket on almost everything.

A critical corollary of the lack of genuine political pluralism is that opposition parties can no longer perform their principal function, which is to hold the government to account. This cannot happen if government and opposition are in complete agreement on all major policies, be that immigration or climate change. How can the Liberals challenge Labor on their insane energy policy when their own varies from Labor’s in nothing but a few minor details?

Without authentic political pluralism or genuine competition of parties and policy ideas, the whole liberal democratic order ceases to operate normally and more and more resembles a one-party autocracy.

The State uses law enforcement to pursue its ideological agenda and penalise political opponents: This has become more a reality in the USA than Australia, but we have not been completely immune to this phenomenon.

In the USA law enforcement agencies have become extremely selective in terms of what types of crimes and criminals are prosecuted (and also not prosecuted). We have seen the disturbing viciousness with which the USA Department of Justice has dealt with the 6 January 2021 ‘insurrectionists’. Remember, these were a bunch of unarmed halfwits who made an unauthorised entry into the Capitol and damaged some furniture, but did not hurt anyone, and certainly did not kill anyone. Many of them will languish in prison for years for a very trivial non-violent offence. In contrast, just months earlier we witnessed violent BLM and Antifa riots all over America causing massive property destruction and numerous deaths. It is not clear how many BLM and Antifa thugs were even prosecuted, let alone jailed for their violent crimes. And now the DoJ has turned its sights on Donald Trump in what amounts to little more than legal persecution of the Democratic Party’s principal political opponent.

This type of selectiveness was also on display in Australia during the pandemic. BLM rallies involving tens of thousands of protesters took place in some of our largest cities, including Sydney and Melbourne. They were held at the height of the pandemic and in breach of lockdown rules, but no one was arrested or even fined. Yet only months later we witnessed the extraordinary brutality with which Victoria’s police handled anti-lockdown protesters who were not only arrested, but also physically beaten and even shot with rubber bullets.

Media running a protection racket for the (approved) government: In the socialist State the media’s sole function is propaganda. It seems undeniable that the mainstream media in the Western world has started to behave like the propaganda arm of the socialist agenda. Its purpose is not to inform, but to preach the mantras of global warming, critical race theory, and gender ideology.

Community consisting of two distinct ‘castes’: Western societies are no longer communities of autonomous self-regulating self-sufficient individuals. Rather, one can already detect a distinct two-caste system: the cultural elites and the plebs. The latter are the ‘quiet’ Australians or Brits or Americans who are focused on making ends meet, providing for their families, taking care of their children, and ensuring they have a roof over their heads and bread on the table. The elites are the new Nomenklatura. They are in dominant societal positions: government, media, academia, high tech, high finance. They have an ideological agenda rooted in cultural neo-Marxism—particularly militant environmentalism and gender ideology—which they relentlessly enforce on the plebs.

Failure to comply with the new Nomenklatura’s agenda is often severely punished: people get ‘cancelled’, lose jobs and businesses, their livelihood; their lives can be utterly destroyed. Ah, some may suggest, but in the Soviet Union they actually imprisoned dissenters and we do not do this here. My answer is … Not yet! We are already hearing activists’ demands for climate scepticism to be criminalised, and it looks like witch-hunting criminal trials are not too far off.

For the plebs, the reality on the ground is that although they may not (yet) be as dispossessed of rights as their unfortunate socialist brothers and sisters, over the past decades a huge amount of their freedom has been smothered by the relentless rise of the rules and regulations imposed by all three tiers of government. Think of Australian farmers who are not allowed to manage their own land or use their own water resources. The ever-growing and arrogant State is interminably in our face, ordering us around and telling us what cars we can or cannot drive, what foods we can or cannot eat, what beverages we can or cannot drink, and generally how to live our lives.

Socialist abundance: Playing dominos in Havana.
Photo: Alex Proimos/Flickr

But even that pales in comparison with the level of authoritarianism and coercion unleashed on the plebs during the pandemic when, short of welding shut the entrances of whole apartment blocks, our arguably democratic government behaved in a frighteningly similar fashion to the brutal and inhumane communist dictatorship in Beijing.

Anti-lockdown protesters were handled with extraordinary brutality.

Quiet amalgamation of the State and big business: While most small business continues to operate in a largely capitalistic profit-driven fashion, it is increasingly hampered by red and green tape. Big business, however, has started behaving in a distinctly uncapitalistic fashion. We have witnessed a quiet and informal amalgamation of government and big business, whereby big business not only provides massive funding to the (approved) political class, but also increasingly supports the government’s political and ideological agenda and effectively behaves as an arm of the government. This is particularly true of big tech which has collaborated with the US Government to suppress various narratives and, more generally, to shape and control the parameters of discourse on social media. We have also seen a growing trend of political activism on the part of banks and large corporations invariably promoting the green-left ideological agenda, especially global warming catastrophism and gender ideology.

Socialism has failed to become more like capitalism.

Towards a centrally planned economy: The Government’s heavy-handed interference in the energy domain is a clear example of the State’s ever-expanding power. The energy-related policies that practically all Western States have pursued involve large-scale State-planned and executed energy reforms designed to gradually eliminate traditional fossil fuel sources of energy generation and replace them with wind and solar electricity generators. These reforms are essentially socialist—little more than a modern (and extended) reiteration of the Soviet five-year economic plan. Like these plans, they have a range of highly undesirable unintended consequences (such as sky-rocketing electricity prices and large-scale energy shortages) and fail spectacularly at what they, at least on the face of it, are meant to achieve. These policies will not change the Earth’s temperatures by even a fraction of one degree, but will inflict immeasurable damage on the global economy and cause human misery and suffering of biblical proportions.

THE VERDICT

The arguments and evidence presented above clearly invalidate Convergence Theory. Contrary to what the theory predicted, socialism has failed to become even remotely more like capitalism. Capitalism for its part has become disturbingly socialist-like in a number of respects. The energy sector is where this trend can be seen most clearly. In the 1980s the economic collapse of the Soviet system (and socialism more broadly) was becoming glaringly obvious. Nowhere else did this economic crisis manifest itself more clearly than in the socialist State’s energy sector, when many Soviet Bloc countries experienced rolling blackouts which lasted several years. I then came to the conclusion that electricity shortages were a trademark of socialism.

Now we have started seeing them increasingly in the West, including here in Australia, even the occurrence of occasional blackouts—still rare, but practically certain to become a regular phenomenon a year or two from now. In the light of this happening, was I wrong 40-odd years ago to assume the blackouts are exclusively a feature of socialism? I do not think so. That we see them happening in the West does not mean capitalism can have them too; it means the West is no longer capitalist. The inevitable conclusion is that in the past three decades the West has shifted so much to the left that it has effectively become to a large extent socialist: hence the blackouts.

I know the picture I have painted is rather pessimistic, but there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that the Western world’s current trajectory will only lead us to a place no one will particularly like, not even those who are now pushing us in that direction. This begs the question: is it too late to turn the ship around? I honestly do not know. I do know it is time we, the plebs, clearly recognise where we as a society are headed and start putting up a bit of a resistance. It is in our interest to start doing this sooner rather than later … before they start putting dissenters in jail.

Christo Moskovsky was born in Bulgaria in the 1950s and spent the first half of his life under communism until the collapse of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s. Christo moved to Australia in the early 1990s to undertake a PhD. In 2022 he retired after a 25-year tenure as a linguistics lecturer.

This article from the Winter 2023 edition of the IPA Review is written by Eastern European émigré
and former academic Christo Moskovsky.

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