On February 7, 2023, US Congress resolved to denounce the horrors of socialism. House Concurrent Resolution 9 “denounces socialism and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States.” The resolution passed with a vote of 328 – 86, with 14 Present votes. Every Republican and 109 Democrats voted yes on this resolution. This is in spite of socialism having a 36% favorability rating in the United States according to a September 2022 Pew Research Poll.
It comes as no surprise that a congress made up of over 50% millionaires would be against socialism. It should also come as no surprise that this resolution is based on lies about socialism. The resolution begins:
Denouncing the horrors of socialism.
Whereas socialist ideology necessitates a concentration of power that has time and time again collapsed into Communist regimes, totalitarian rule, and brutal dictatorships;
Whereas socialism has repeatedly led to famine and mass murders, and the killing of over 100,000,000 people worldwide;
These are often repeated lies about socialism. The 100 million number comes straight from the Black Book of Communism. This is a piece of fiction that has been thoroughly debunked. Even renowned anti-communist Noam Chomsky has pointed out the flawed perspective of this book. In Spectre Magazine No. 9 he wrote:
Overcoming amnesia, suppose we now apply the methodology of the Black Book and its reviewers to the full story, not just the doctrinally acceptable half. We therefore conclude that in India the democratic capitalist “experiment” since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of the “colossal, wholly failed…experiment” of Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone. The “criminal indictment” of the “democratic capitalist experiment” becomes harsher still if we turn to its effects after the fall of Communism: millions of corpses in Russia, to take one case, as Russia followed the confident prescription of the World Bank that “Countries that liberalise rapidly and extensively turn around more quickly [than those that do not],” returning to something like what it had been before World War I, a picture familiar throughout the “third world.” But “you can’t make an omelette without broken eggs,” as Stalin would have said. The indictment becomes far harsher if we consider these vast areas that remained under Western tutelage, yielding a truly “colossal” record of skeletons and “absolutely futile, pointless and inexplicable suffering” (Ryan). The indictment takes on further force when we add to the account the countries devastated by the direct assaults of Western power, and its clients, during the same years.
These so-called horrors of socialism pale in comparison to the horrors of capitalism. Yet Congress has yet to pass a resolution condemning capitalism and its policies in the United States.
Some of the authors who contributed to the Black Book then criticized it after publication. As published in Lemonde in 1997 (translation by Google):
Jean-Louis Margolin and Nicolas Werth criticize Stéphane Courtois for considering “the criminal dimension as one of the dimensions specific to the entire communist system”, as he writes in his text. “This amounts to removing its historical character from the phenomenon,” says Jean-Louis Margolin. Even if the communist breeding ground can lead to mass crimes, the link between doctrine and practice is not obvious, contrary to what Stéphane Courtois says”. Disputing “approximations”, “contradictions” and “clumsiness that make sense”, the two authors criticize Stéphane Courtois for his “obsession with reaching one hundred million deaths”. Nicolas Werth thus counts fifteen million victims in the USSR, when Stéphane Courtois, in his introduction, adds five. Mr. Margolin explains “that he never mentioned a million deaths in Vietnam”.
The number 100 million was simply created for shock value and is not based on any actual research. As Kristen Ghodsee explained in 2014 in a History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History:
Indeed, in a 2000 review of The Passing of an Illusion and The Black Book of Communism, the Soviet historian J Arch. Getty pointed out that over half of the 100 million deaths attributed to communism were “excess deaths” resulting from famine. Getty writes: “The overwhelming weight of opinion among scholars working in the new archives (including Courtois’s co-editor Werth) is that the terrible famine of the 1930s was the result of Stalinist bungling and rigidity rather than some genocidal plan. Are deaths from a famine cause by the stupidity and incompetence of a regime . . . to be equated with the deliberate gassing of Jews?
According to the United States government, socialism is to be renounced for this while the capitalist system is immune to criticism. This is because many of the horrors of capitalism have been carried out by the United States. Rather than reflect upon their own past, they choose to follow a false narrative that paints socialism as the greatest evil in history. It was not socialism that carried out the forced sterilization of primarily women of color in the United States. This was a capitalist policy that continues today with 31 states having forced sterilization laws.
The US eugenics program was so brutal that Alexandra Minna Stern, Professor of American Culture, History, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan reported that “The Third Reich’s 1933 ‘Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases’ was modeled on laws in Indiana and California.” Nazi Germany used the United States as a model for genocide.
Moreover, Hitler was familiar with the official United States Indian policies used to acquire much of its territorial empire, including the Removal, Reservation, and Assimilation Eras of Indian polices.28 These policies were all designed to acquire Indian lands for the United States, and to remove, concentrate, and, certainly, exterminate Indians. Hitler envisioned the “German East” of Poland, Ukraine, and Russia as an analogy to the American frontier of the “West,” and he expected to expand the German empire eastwards in the same fashion as the United States had westward. Hitler and other Nazi leaders often referred to Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians as “Indians. – Robert J Miller, St. John’s Law Review
And what of Nazism today? The US continually votes no on the United Nations Resolution “Combating glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” The United States has no problem with the glorification of Nazism today but is happy to renounce socialism.
But what is Socialism?
Merriam-Webster defines socialism as: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Considering that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are the godfathers of scientific socialist thought, it is important to look at socialism from a Marxist perspective. As Engels explained in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Marxists are not interested in utopian ideals but in material gains for the working class. This is the essence of socialism. It is not a utopian heaven on earth; it is a transitional stage between capitalism and communism. It is in essence the lower form of communism. As Karl Marx explained in the Critique of the Gotha Programme:
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.
But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.
Marx understood that material reality meant any transition to socialism would not be some perfect, idealized state. Socialism is born from contradictions of capitalist production and necessarily any transitional state will not be perfect but will be marked with these same contradictions. As renowned Marxist historian Michael Parenti wrote in Blackshirts and Reds:
To be sure, crimes of state were committed in communist countries and many political prisoners were unjustly interned and even murdered. But the inflated numbers offered by cold-war scholars. serve neither historical truth nor the cause of justice but merely help to reinforce a knee-jerk fear and loathing of those terrible Reds.
Blackshirts and Reds was written before the publication of the Black Book of Communism but criticizes the same kind of propagandistic inflation of numbers used in that work. In it, Michael Parenti also addresses the baseless criticism that socialism does not work:
To say that “socialism doesn’t work” is to overlook the fact that it did. In Eastern Europe, Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea, and Cuba, revolutionary communism created a life for the mass of people that was far better than the wretched existence they had endured under feudal lords, military bosses, foreign colonizers, and Western capitalists. The end result was a dramatic improvement in living conditions for hundreds of millions of people on a scale never before or since witnessed in history. State socialism transformed desperately poor countries into modernized societies in which everyone had enough food, clothing, and shelter; where elderly people had secure pensions; and where all children (and many adults) went to school and no one was denied medical attention. Some of us from poor families who carry around the hidden injuries of class are much impressed by these achievements and are unwilling to dismiss them as merely “economistic.” But what of the democratic rights that these peoples were denied? In fact, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, these countries had known little political democracy in the days before communism. Russia was a czarist autocracy, Poland a rightist dictatorship with concentration camps of its own, Albania an Italian fascist protectorate as early as 1927, Cuba a U.S.-sponsored dictatorship. Lithuania, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria were outright fascist regimes allied with Nazi Germany in World War II.
Historical evidence shows that socialism improves the quality of life of the masses over capitalism. This is backed up by numerous sociological studies. In a 1981 article entitled Public Action and the Quality of Life in Developing Countries published in the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Amartya Sen found that:
On the other hand, it is easily checked that even among comparable countries in terms of GNP per head, the longevity performance of the communist countries is typically superior. This applies to the poorer group also. For example, if we look at countries with GNP per head less than $1,000, the following is the breakdown of communist and non-communist countries in terms of longevity performance. Clearly the relative performance of communist countries is superior in terms of this particular indicator.
To put it simply, people live longer under socialism. Recent events have shown this study to be correct as both Cuba and China have now surpassed the US in life expectancy. And even this is misleading, as life expectancy in the US is determined by income bracket.
To continue with Arya Sen’s study:
One thought that is bound to occur is that communism is good for poverty removal. There are 10 communist countries in the total list of 100, and of them nine show some distinction.
Other studies back up this assertion that socialism shows distinction in its ability to remove poverty. In 1986, Shirley Cereseto and Howard Waitzkin found that:
The data indicated that the socialist countries generally have achieved better PQL [physical quality of life] outcomes than the capitalist countries at equivalent levels of economic development.
In 1993, Professor Vicente Navarro of John Hopkins University discovered, “that, contrary to dominant ideology, socialism and socialist forces have been, for the most part, better able to improve health conditions than have capitalism and capitalist forces.”
Historical data is clear that socialist countries have been successful at taking care of the basic needs of the people while capitalism has failed. This is why the US has intervened with every attempt at socialism. It would not do for the good example of a socialist society to exist. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as The Threat of a Good Example:
The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, “why not us?”
Former head of Cuban intelligence, Fabian Escalante documented 638 attempts made by the US to assassinate Fidel Castro. This was not because Fidel was a brutal dictator but rather because Cuban revolution showed what a socialist state could do for the people. By 1961, Cuban literacy rates had risen from 60-76% to 96% thanks to Fidel’s literacy program. In 2021, according to Knoema, Cuba had 99.7% literacy. Knoema does not have similar data for the US, but a 2020 study found that:
Yet, according to a recent study from the Department of Education, roughly half of U.S. adults, aged 16 to 74 years old — 54% or 130 million people — lack literacy proficiency.
When 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praised the successes of Fidel Castro’s literacy program, he was immediately attacked by the mainstream media. The Washington Post published an opinion titled “Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign and authoritarianism go hand in hand.” Newsweek published “Bernie Sanders Is Wrong to Praise Castro’s ‘Literacy Program.’ Two Cuban Americans Explain Why.” And NBC News went with the provocative title “Yes, Bernie Sanders, Castro’s literacy program was ‘a bad thing.’ I was indoctrinated by it.” And NPR aired an interview with Cuban American author Andy Gomez, who said of the literacy program “But the trick to this whole thing was, in his narcissistic mind, he has used education to indoctrinate the children to a Marxist ideology.” In defense of the capitalist system, the media was quick to find opinions declaring that learning to read is a bad thing. Missing from these reports were the interviews with Cubans who benefitted greatly from the literacy program. In 1968, Paul Sweazy and Leo Huberman interviewed Oscar Rivero, a 17-year-old student, who said “Had there been no Revolution many of the opportunities we have today would not be available. I would have studied when I was younger, but I didn’t have the chance, I had to help my father. My family lives better in every way than before Revolution. They used to tell me of the troubles they had—lack of work, hunger, a whole series of problems. Now they are not hungry. All are working or studying.” (Sweazy and Huberman, Socialism in Cuba, page 37) Bernie was right to praise Castro’s Cuba for their advances in literacy. Since then, Bernie has seemingly given up on praising social advances and supports capitalist Joe Biden for reelection in 2024.
The capitalist system is structured to produce maximum profit benefitting the few, not material gains for the many. Private ownership of the means of production means that the majority are forced to sell their labor power to the capitalist class. They are paid a subsistence wage while the bulk of their work is expropriated as surplus value for the owners. The resulting massive inequality is a feature of the capitalist system that cannot be regulated away. The difference between capitalism and socialism can be seen through statistics from Russia. In a paper entitled From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016, Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman trace how inequality changed from Tsarist Russia to the Soviet Union through the reintroduction of capitalism:
The basic picture is pretty obvious: income inequality was high under Tsarist Russia, then dropped to very low levels during the Soviet period, and finally rose back to very high levels after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to our benchmark estimates, the top 10% income share was about 45-50% in 1905, dropped to around 20-25% during the Soviet period, and rose again to 45-50% in the 1990s before stabilizing at this very high level since then (see Figure 8a). The top 1% income share was somewhat below 20% in 1905, dropped to as little as 4-5% during the Soviet period, and rose spectacularly to 20-25% in the recent decades.
The reintroduction of capitalism after the dissolution of the USSR resulted in a massive increase in inequality as well as adult mortality rates. Where socialism has increased life expectancy and decreased inequality, capitalism has done just the opposite.
The United States also has a huge problem with inequality. A 2020 Pew Research study shows this:
One widely used measure – the 90/10 ratio – takes the ratio of the income needed to rank among the top 10% of earners in the U.S. (the 90th percentile) to the income at the threshold of the bottom 10% of earners (the 10th percentile). In 1980, the 90/10 ratio in the U.S. stood at 9.1, meaning that households at the top had incomes about nine times the incomes of households at the bottom. The ratio increased in every decade since 1980, reaching 12.6 in 2018, an increase of 39%.
But what about capitalism and poverty?
Proponents of capitalism and trickle-down economics like to say a rising tide lifts all boats. They claim that capitalism has pulled more people out of poverty than any other system because it has made more people rich. But this simply is not true. The recent experience in Russia with growing inequality and raising mortality rates after the reintroduction of capitalism in 1991 has only reinforced the historical record. A recent study by Jason Hickel and Dylan Sullivan shows that the early adoption of capitalism resulted in increased poverty and decreased life expectancy. Everywhere capitalism was adopted, the physical quality of life for the masses has gotten worse, not better.
The rise of capitalism caused a dramatic deterioration of human welfare. In all regions studied here, incorporation into the capitalist world-system was associated with a decline in wages to below subsistence, a deterioration in human stature, and an upturn in premature mortality. In parts of South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, key welfare metrics have still not recovered. Where progress has occurred, significant improvements in human welfare began several centuries after the rise of capitalism. In the core regions of Northwest Europe, progress began in the 1880s, while in the periphery and semi-periphery it began in the mid-20th century, a period characterized by the rise of anti-colonial and socialist political movements that redistributed incomes and established public provisioning systems.
It has been socialism and socialist movements that have resulted in decreases in poverty, not capitalism. If capitalism were so successful at eliminating poverty, the United States today should be a paradise on earth. But in December 2017, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, released a report on extreme poverty in the United States. The following statements from this detailed report paint a very different picture from the elimination of poverty:
The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.
In September 2017, more than one in every eight Americans were living in poverty (40 million, equal to 12.7% of the population). And almost half of those (18.5 million) were living in deep poverty, with reported family income below one-half of the poverty threshold.”
A shockingly high number of children in the US live in poverty. In 2016, 18% of children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty, with children comprising 32.6% of all people in poverty.
In stark contrast to this, China has successfully lifted 800 million people out of extreme poverty. As The World Bank reported in 2022:
Over the past 40 years, the number of people in China with incomes below $1.90 per day – the International Poverty Line as defined by the World Bank to track global extreme poverty– has fallen by close to 800 million. With this, China has contributed close to three-quarters of the global reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty. At China’s current national poverty line, the number of poor fell by 770 million over the same period.
If China can do this, so could the United States – if it were to adopt a socialist agenda. But what of Venezuela, the poster boy of socialist failure according to western propaganda? After all, Congress just resolved that:
Whereas the implementation of socialism in Venezuela has turned a once-prosperous nation into a failed State with the world’s highest rate of inflation;
The real story is not that of a failed state. After the Bolivarian Revolution under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela made great gains for the masses:
With regard to these social determinants of health indicators, Venezuela is now the country in the region with the lowest inequality level (measured by the Gini Coefficient) having reduced inequality by 54%, poverty by 44%. Poverty has been reduced from 70.8% (1996) to 21% (2010). And extreme poverty reduced from 40% (1996) to a very low level of 7.3% (2010). About 20 million people have benefited from anti-poverty programs, called “Misiones” (Up to now, 2.1 million elderly people have received old-age pensions – that is 66% of the population while only 387,000 received pensions before the current government.”
These gains were so impressive that a Gallup poll found that 64% of Venezuelans were thriving in 2010 – it was the sixth highest rated in that poll. In comparison, at that time, only 59% of the United States population were in the same position. Since then, the United States has done its best to crush Venezuela under severe sanctions, but Venezuela is still doing better than under capitalism. In fact, in 2018, Telesur reported:
Alfred de Zayas, the independent expert of the United Nations (UN) on the Promotion of an International Democratic and Equitable Order, concluded after his visit to Venezuela that this country does not suffer a humanitarian crisis, unlike countries in Africa or Asia where there are wars and famine.
Critiques of socialism by the West are revealed to be propaganda in favor of a system that relies on unemployment and poverty. A study of the actual history of socialism and the material conditions of socialist countries shows that socialism is a great step forward for the masses. Where capitalism creates poverty, socialism eliminates it. When Congress condemns socialism, it condemns the working class in favor of the ruling class. Socialism demands the liberation of the people. The horrors of capitalism must be renounced and socialism embraced for a better future for all. Only a united working-class movement can expropriate the means of production from the capitalists. Working people of the world unite.