Rhetoric:Socialism Only Works In Theory

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The response depends on whom you ask, as many of us define socialism differently,[1] but we’ll deal with each argument.


Firstly, some socialists insist that socialism must, by definition, abolish the law of value (‘the mutual exchangeability of products of equal social labour[2]), abolish (generalised) commodity production, and extinguish capital (in other words, negate capitalism); arguably many of the communes, republics, and other projects fall short of those qualifications, making them merely presocialist. There are furthermore some who insist that it be a global phenomenon like capitalism is today,[3] a criterion under which they’d all certainly fall short. But world socialism is possible[4] because[5] the dominant economic model has been replaced numerous times: for a while it was chattel slavery, and then it was feudalism, something which has actually persisted longer than capitalism has. While it is difficult to accurately predict when we have all finally had enough of capitalism, the fact of the matter is that society does mutate, both on small scales and sometimes on large ones. Other sceptics insist that capitalism is eternal due to our ‘biology’, in which case, see objection three again. There are furthermore arguments that planned economics would be far too cumbersome for individuals or collectives to handle, but it is highly disputable that such blissfully unaware arguments would apply at all;[6] [7] they furthermore ignore the immense use that modern technology already offers to a planning process.[8] It has more‐or‐less already been tested in a people’s republic but with primitive computers, e.g.:

‘What Soviet economic planners resorted to was running smaller spreadsheets. They handled only a few thousand key products and ran these through their mainframe computers as linear programmes: for these the equations [could] be solved. This explains one of the strengths of the Soviet economy: it did well on certain key projects like the space programme which can be given priority in the planning process, but there [was] just not the computer power available to apply the same techniques more widely.’

Workers’ rights[edit]

Secondly, a more relaxed definition of socialism is that it can exist on a smaller scale, in which case, there are plenty of examples: from Burkina Faso[9] to Grenada[10] to Revolutionary Catalonia[11] to the Paris Commune[12] to the Hungarian Commune[13] to Seychelles to FEJUVE[14] [15] to the Shinmin Prefecture[16] to the Neozapatistas[17] and their Autonomous Municipalities[18] to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria or to Free Territory.[19] The brief lifespans of many of these is not, as antisocialists typically imply, purely the result of internal collapse, but[20] from capitalist corruption.[21] Either way, a brief lifespan is not in and of itself an adequate reason for discarding something. (Did scientists waste their time and produce nothing of value when their first clone of the Pyrenean ibex lasted for only several minutes?[22]) In addition, worker cooperatives, while not necessarily threatening to capital, have nevertheless been demonstrated[23] as being not only viable but also superior to the standard business model in many ways.[24] [25] [26] [27] [28]

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria[29]—even in spite of the embargoes and other nuisances that neoimperialists have imposed on them, and their (limited) tolerance for privatization and Yankee assistance—has massively increased gender equality, ethnic equality, healthcare access, education access, autonomy, political democracy,[30] harnessed the local resources largely for use rather than profit,[31] and more.[32] They have greatly improved and modernized their region in many ways.[33] They have the support of state socialists both at home[34] and from the Turkish Communist Party.

Grenada’s New JEWEL Movement[35] made grade school and secondary education gratis for all, a first in the territory’s history. They also distributed materials for home improvement to the needy, saw unemployment dropped dramatically from 49% to 14% in three years, took measures in support of equal pay and equal legal status for women, and saw cultural and sports programmes set up for youths, all of this in addition to the healthcare and food mentioned earlier.[36] [37]

Spain improved dramatically from the socialist revolution of the 1930s.[38] [39] The benefits are numerous: labourers in both agricultural and industrial sectors continued production effectively and devoid of any hierarchy involved; working conditions and output were both improved; healthcare became gratis; education was increased; gender equality started to flourish in part thanks to Mujeres Libres; and living standards in general improved, all done in spite of the anticommunist aggression.[40] Catalonia’s anarchist movement created not only a defence industry from almost nothing, but also improved working conditions and innovated with new techniques and processes. The construction of an alternative to the capitalist state, headed by the organized and armed exploited masses of that capitalist system, inspired innovations of every structural level of society—the economic, political, and ideological.[41] In Barcelona for example, the labourers ran the trains, cinemas, factories, department stores, and even greyhound tracks. The trades unions managed food supplies; union lorries drove out to the villages with goods to trade for food. Barter (rather than purchasing) sustained the region for the first weeks of the Spanish Civil War. In some cases money successfully fell into disuse; people could do shopping with vouchers that local committees issued.[42] (Decentral planners operated in some areas where influence of the CNT and UGT was most extensive, particularly the rural regions.) Not only do these prove to be significant political (the working class’s relation to the capitalist class) and economic (organization of production) developments, but they also represent advancements in the relations between the supports of those structures, that is, between the social classes which embody those structures.

The Indian state Kerala, where the actions of popular organizations and mass movements have gained important victories over the last four or so decades against political and economic oppression, has generated a level of social development better than that found in most of the other superexploited (‘third world’) countries and accomplished without any external investments. As of the 1990s the literacy there is widespread, the birth and death rates are lower than those in the rest of India, the public health services are superior, the under‐age labourers are fewer, the nutritional levels are higher with thanks to a publicly subsidized food rationing programme, women have more enlightened legal support and educational programmes, and finally some social security protections for the proletariat and for the destitute and physically disabled. The Kerala proletariat radically altered a complex and exploitative economy of agrarian relations and gained important victories against the more horrid forms of caste oppression; they have had some success with their decentral planning (and some difficulties, but it is doubtful that these were structural).[43] All of this was accomplished in spite of low income, low resources, some persistent poverty, and no special sources of wealth; it is with thanks to socialist organization and political struggle that has affected large numbers of citizens that the state’s democracy was electrified.[44] [45] Also in India are the Naxalites, a movement that has distributed land to the poor, defeated the exploitations of indigenous, sexual, and rural labor, issued fairer wages, improved local healthcare, prevented the antisocialists’ forced eviction and seizure of natural resources, and more.

The Neozapatistas, in addition to their new and improved healthcare and education, have constructed an economic infrastructure designed to address the high level of poverty in their communities. This autonomous economy offers a grassroots alternative to global capitalism. Economic cooperatives generate resources that are invested back into the community. Cooperative stores provide merchandise for community members at reasonable prices while also generating income. Money raised by the cooperatives is used to cover shared expenses, for example when the community’s representatives travel to a regional meeting. The EZLN has also greatly improved hygiene and sanitation infrastructure in the territory under their control, and have even managed to (almost) eliminate alcohol consumption in their communities, which has had a massively positive impact on public health. Another important advance that the EZLN made is the improvement in gender relations in their communities and have taken an active approach to fighting neopatriarchy. In 2018 for example, they organized an event entirely by, and for, women. While it would be an exaggeration to classify either them or their social existence as anarchist, their relatively decentralized or libertarian model has nevertheless been an important inspiration to anarchists and other socialists.

Parenti’s To Kill a Nation indicates that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had one of the most vigorous growth rates between 1960 and 1980, along with medical care and education gratis, a guaranteed right to an income, mensual vacations with pay, a literacy rate of over 90%, a life expectancy of 7.2 decades, in addition to its inexpensive public transport, housing, and utilities—in a mostly publicly owned, semiplanned economy—for its multiethnic citizenry.[46] As late as 1990, better than 60% of the total labour force was in the public sector, much of it self‐managed. Croats, Serbs, and others lived together in relative contentment, experiencing quotidian friendships throughout the regions before May 1991.[47]

Finally, there are places such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics[48] and the People’s Republic of China, repetitively referenced as ‘failures of socialism’. The reality is that[49] even these homelands were still vast improvements compared to the previous states of[50] [51] affairs:[52] the People’s Republic of China[53] achieved[54] briefer working hours[55] (especially compared to the ’00s[56]), higher literacy rates, more accessible medicine, lower mortality rates[57] (in fact better healthcare than that in the U.S.),[58] higher and better life expectancies,[59] democratic communes,[60] strong laws against poor working conditions,[61] wages increasing when productivity rises[62] (in fact wages steadily increasing by 12% yearly from 2001 to now),[63] a significant rate at which they arrest shifty businessmen,[64] and a[65] greater population[66] (so much so that experts Amartya Sen[67] and Jean Drèze have postdicted that India would have benefited far more from adopting the P.R.C.’s route).[68] The Unknown Cultural Revolution,[69] written by somebody who lived in the People’s Republic of China at the time, goes into detail about the positive effects of education reform, agricultural and industrial progress, and political empowerment brought by the Cultural Revolution (especially in rural areas).

Much of the same is true for the Soviet Union (which even antisocialists[70] have acknowledged as a superpower). The Soviets provided housing, education, and healthcare as basic rights:[71] Healthcare,[72] shelter, transport,[73] water, education,[74] [75] and many foods were either very cheap or decommodified.[76] Education improved.[77] Economic equality, while imperfect, was still much better,[78] including for single mothers.[79] State officials in the USSR, while (arguably) overprivileged, still did not personally profit from the means of production, and they did not extract value from the workers; one paid them for their work, like everybody else.[80] Unemployment decreased severely and economic growth continued for seven decades[81] (statistically unemployment is often put at 0%, but this may be a slight exaggeration reliant on the Soviets’ definition). They recognised overtime as a potential threat to the health of workers and permitted it only under special circumstances and on agreement with the trades union.[82] The populaces in general were happier. During the Great Depression, many people consciously sought refuge in the U.S.S.R. (at least for a while!),[83] and all historians concur that nobody but the Soviet Union deserves most of the credit for ending the Third Reich.[84] [85] [86] [87] Comparing any planned economy to the United States would indeed make the market seem much more efficient (especially by means of Eurocentric methods like the GDP[88] or the HDI[89]). But when adjusting for material circumstances, trying to compare the United States, one of the most prosperous nations in modern history with an immense amount of access to global markets and a variety of neocolonies to superexploit,[90] and Russia, a land that just escaped feudalism and preindustrialization only by the 1920s and suffered countless sanctions throughout the short twentieth century,[91] is almost meaningless. Many studies that adjust for material conditions have demonstrated that planned economies have historically performed better in growing a society: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was fit and incentivized to cater to the needs and wants of its people without markets.[92]

The Soviet trades unions were outstandingly empowered since at least the 1950s; they held management accountable if they broke collective agreements or created unsafe working conditions. The Soviet trades unions also issued welfare benefits, operated recreational facilities, took care of vacation subsidies, oversaw the construction of houses and factories, highly subsidized other leisure industries, and so on. They were in collaboration with the state, but not wholly dependent on them; Soviet trades unions were famously able to get doctors to work illegal hours without prosecution even before the 1950s.[93] The Soviet Union’s planning system was both rational and participatory: it had the consultation of workers at every level of planning, with Trade Union leaders being consulted at the top, elected delegates in the middle, all the way down to the workstead or collective farm.[94] Earlier they organized large scale participation in eliminating illiteracy.[95] Factory directors were unable to take surplus; they had a fixed wage, comparable to that of a teacher.[96] Similarly, the People’s Republic of China has tolerance and support for nearly all strikers;[97] [98] [99] state‐socialist publications typically cite the impressively large number of protests as a victory for communism, demonstrating how laborers in the P.R.C. feel more comfortable to demand their rights than those in the U.S.A. or other neoliberal states.[100] The Chinese Communist Party typically take the workers’ side in most demonstrations[101] (even when workers terrorize management, potentially causing less investment in the P.R.C.).[102] If the All‐China Federation of Trade Unions fails to represent workers in a particular region, the P.R.C. allows workers to build a grassroots unofficial one to put pressure on the national union.[103]

Poverty decreased massively.[104] In the 1950s the Soviets expanded their economy at the rate of six to seven percent yearly (whereas the U.S.’s slowed to 2.7% yearly). Dulles, the director of the C.I.A., declared ‘that rapid Soviet economic progress posed the most serious peacetime challenge [that] the United States had ever faced.[105] In research published after the twentieth century, Elizabeth Brainerd used archival and anthropometric data to provide a detailed analysis of living standards in the U.S.S.R., admitting that for all their faults the Soviets achieved ‘Remarkably large and rapid improvements in child height, adult stature and infant mortality’ and ‘significant improvements likely occurred in the nutrition, sanitary practices, and public health infrastructure.’ She also states that ‘the physical growth record of the Soviet population compares favorably with that of other European countries at a similar level of development in this period.’ And finally, ‘The conventional measures of GNP growth and household consumption indicate a long, uninterrupted upward climb in the Soviet standard of living from 1928 to 1985; even Western estimates of these measures support this view, albeit at a slower rate of growth than the Soviet measures.[106]

A Difficult Road: The Transition to Socialism in Mozambique indicates that the People’s Republic of Mozambique enjoyed higher literacy rates, mass vaccinations, a more democratic education, agricultural advancements, a (much) less hierarchal administration, and more. The Republic of Cuba,[107] which benefited in many ways from the revolution[108] (including great education,[109] a solid democracy,[110] higher lifespans, lower infant mortality, less poverty,[111] full electrification,[112] a body of elected delegates who direct the economy away from the established framework and into one that successfully allows for workers’ self‐management[113] [114] and more (see Huberman & Sweezy’s Socialism in Cuba), all despite[115] suffering decades of antisocialist aggression),[116] is famous for its number of medical professionals, causing some people to return there[117] or seek their medical training there.[118] In 2006 the International Journal of Epidemiology stated that the Republic of ‘Cuba represents an important alternative example where modest infrastructure investments combined with a well-developed public health strategy have generated health status measures comparable with those of industrialized countries.[119] (Some have speculated that Cuban physicians are simply given ‘health outcome targets’ to meet or face penalties, encouraging them to manipulate their data, but we have yet to see documented evidence for this.) Unsurprisingly, their scientists were the first to introduce a vaccine for lung cancer,[120] an anti‐AIDS contagion pill,[121] and they designed new[122] hepatitis B vaccines;[123] Time reported that the Republic of Cuba has eliminated the transmission of HIV through pregnancies,[124] making them the world’s first country to do so,[125] and since 2019 they have been distributing PrEP gratis to those who need it,[126] reducing the chance of HIV infection by as much as 90%.[127] (Even the antisocialist Bloomberg placed the Republic of Cuba’s healthcare above the U.S.’s,[128] and the antisocialist New York Times has confirmed that U.S. students do travel there to seek medical training.[129]) Both they and the People’s Republic of China have distributed 933 tons of medicine to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.[130]

In a rare move, some Western antisocialists established a programme in the 1960s to provide economic growth, employment, agrarian reform, education, housing, healthcare, more equitable distributions of national income, and other benefits to the people of Central and South America in order to discourage their interest in communism. But in 1970, researchers Jerome Levinson and Juan de Onis[131] discovered that the Republic of Cuba actually came closer to these goals than most of the programme’s members.[132] UNICEF statistics indicate that the Republic of Cuba achieved higher rates of literacy, life expectancy, and prenatal care than the United States did.[133] So did[134] the[135] World Bank’s.[136] Bolivian permanent revolutionaries have supported and positively influenced the local miners, landless peasants, and strikers,[137] and for most of the 2010s the Plurinational State of Bolivia had increased workers’ rights, social welfare, public pensions, minimum wages, and more. They also reduced poverty, deprivation, child mortality, illiteracy, gender inequality, and related burdens. The Republic of Nicaragua’s socialist movement did the same.

The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania increased literacy, electricity, gender equality, employment, healthcare access,[138] [139] [140] [141] abolished taxation,[142] and supported Indonesian socialists. The People’s Republic of Bulgaria likewise severely reduced poverty, illiteracy, unhealthiness, unemployment, inflation, homelessness, slums, and backwardness generally.[143] Even the social democrat Kristen Ghodsee admitted that the People’s Republic of Bulgaria brought people accessible healthcare, education, more employment, literacy, housing, gender equality, and technological modernization. (She also concedes that many of “communism’s victims” were specifically oppressors.)[144] By the 1980s the Hungarian People’s Republic had achieved a very high standard of living compared to the prerevolutionary era. The Socialist Republic of Romania,[145] in spite of their temporary tolerance for neoimperialism and prioritization of Western debts (which they eventually paid off,[146] possibly making them the first country in history to pay off its external debt entirely), transitioned from a monarchofascist state to a people’s republic, which strongly improved healthcare, eradicated illiteracy, and employed more educators.[147] [148] (A liberal and less flattering analysis is available,[149] if one insists on that.) The People’s Republic of China abolished serfdom in Tibet, the many crushing taxes, the compulsory religious observance, in addition to severely reducing the unemployment, beggary, and hierarchy, while constructing new projects such as secular schools, running water and electrical systems[150] in the region.

Ethiopian socialists emancipated serfs after defeating an anticommunist monarch in the 1970s. They dug wells, purchased machinery for the people, constructed schools and health clinics, provided women and others with the means of self‐defence, formed massive peasant organizations that assumed the tasks of dividing the land, constructed dams and irrigation ditches, distributed both fertilizer and improved seeds, established marketing cooperatives, and rose farm production by 10%. Due to the National Work Campaign for Development Through Cooperation, some 4,377,900 functional literacy books were published in various regions; over two hundred medical clinics were established; peasants were taught the elementary rules of hygiene, diet and child care; mass vaccinations were carried out against tuberculosis and small pox; and nearly half a million cattle were inoculated against animal disease.[151] They also implemented a programme to preserve Ethiopian biodiversity in response to a famine that they suffered in the mid‐1980s.[152] The German Democratic Republic compared better to West Germany in many respects.[153] The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia taxed the interest earned on foreign currency accounts, a policy which was popular amongst the lower‐class Yugoslavs. This republic was also the only remaining multiethnic society among the various former Yugoslav territories; the only spot where Albanians, Croats, Egyptians, Gorani, Hungarians, Jews, Roma, Serbs, and numerous other ethnicities could live together with some measure of security and tolerance.[154] In the 2010s the Syrian Arab Republic initiated benefits for the proletariat such as a salary increase for public workers; greater freedom for the press and political parties; a reconsideration of the emergency rule; security against sickness, disability and old age; access to health care; and free education at all levels, among other features.[155] The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has benefited greatly from its socialist movement;[156] their[157] communes have been and continue to be very successful[158] for example (see Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela[159]), and could be essential to overcoming the antisocialist sanctions.[160] The list goes on. Even the number of famines was decreasing; the Uk.S.S.R.’s one from the early 1930s was Ukraine’s last famine, and it, like the Chinese famine, was stopped with no thanks to the capitalists. The disasters were not intentional as anticommunists tiresomely insist and never substantiate; Máo,[161] Stalin,[162] and others were not in denial that they made mistakes.

A complex 2017 analysis of politics and economics in the DPRK.[163] Quote:

‘Prior to the revolution, land was concentrated in the hands of an astonishingly small [Imperial] élite. The Worker’s Party undertook a gradual but steady process of converting private land ownership into cooperative organizations. Beginning with the process of post‐war reconstruction in 1953, only 1.2% of peasant households were organized as cooperatives, which encompassed a mere .6% of total acreage. By August of 1958, 100% of peasant households were converted into cooperatives, encompassing 100% of total acreage.’

For more information: a very exhaustive reading list.[164] [165] [166]

A 2016 analysis of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,[167] which notes that both ‘inflation and unemployment were both considerably lower during’ the first years of the Chávez administration. Among other features:

‘The government has taken a series of actions that could be characterized as “socialistic,” although many of these measures are more accurately described as social democratic. Under Chávez the government significantly increased spending on healthcare, education, and social services. Access to food, housing, and basic utilities was partially decommodified through state subsidies and price controls. This led to dramatic reductions in poverty, inequality, and child malnutrition, major increases in school and university enrollments, and a quadrupling of the number of pensioners.[168]

A complex 2017 analysis of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.[169] Quote:

‘[The Bolivarian Republic of] 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% in 1996 to 21% in 2010. Extreme poverty was reduced from 40% in 1996 to a very low level of 7.3% in 2010. About 20 million people have benefited from anti‐poverty programs, called Misiones. Up to now, 2.1 million elders have received old‐age pensions — that is 66% of the population while only 387,000 received pensions before the revolution.’

Further sources on the U.S.S.R.[170] Finally: a very exhaustive list of resources[171] concerning state socialism in general.

Yes, some anticommunist states (e.g. Scandinavia’s) managed some of these political or economic achievements too, such as the eight‐hour workday, a new electoral system, subsidies for housing, worker councils, profit sharing, arbitration regulation, ‘socialization’ of industries, generous unemployment subsidies to unions, extended suffrage, or old‐age pensions, but throughout the short twentieth century it was Bolshevism that was the main (if not the only) inspiration for these reforms; it is not as if they arose spontaneously.[172]


Socialism does not inhibit innovation. The Soviets (like the P.R.C.[173]) accomplished[174] numerous achievements in the space race[175] (which influenced U.S. education[176][177] and science,[178] to the point where some U.S. rockets still use Soviet‐era engines[179]) including the first, albeit unmanned, mission to the moon,[180] the world’s first direct‐to‐home television service,[181] the first and so far only Pole in space (that being Mirosław Hermaszewski),[182] the first modern mobile telephone[183] (that being LK‐1; previous mobiles were usually restricted to vehicles and occasionally some suitcases), rapid industrialization thanks to their prioritization of use‐value[184] (an important socialist principle), a very early (if not the first) jet,[185] an elaborate system of underground transit, the world’s first facility acting as a blood bank,[186] the first electric current defibrillator,[187] [188] the Bezostaia crop,[189] the largest single-engine biplane (which also became one of the longest production runs ever for any aircraft)[190] the prototypes of the domesticated foxes,[191] a very efficient cane‐harvesting combine,[192] the first Polish nuclear reactor,[a] the first Polish motorway,[b] the first modern, electronic ternary computer,[193] [194] the Tupolev Tu‐114[195] (a rarity, but it was the fastest ever record speed[196] for a propeller‐driven aircraft[197] of any type even to this day), the tokamak reactor (which may be the key to harnessing nuclear fusion for energy[198]), a distributed decision support system (made with some British assistance) to aid in a national economy’s management[199] (lessening the potential damage caused by forty thousand truckers[200] whom antisocialists bribed into striking) established in only four months,[201] the first proposal anywhere in the world to create a national computer network for civilians, that being the OGAS[202] (which was naïvely unfunded, but at least it demonstrates the Soviets’ technological capability), and other inventions,[203] in addition to the highest number of doctors[204] per capita in the world (in fact the world’s highest physician‐patient ratio),[205] Soviet Colonel Georgi Mosolov helped break the record for the world’s fastest aircraft twice, first during 1959 as the Ye‐6/3[206] and again during 1962 as the Ye‐166,[207] [208] respectively. In 1982, the crew of the Salyut 7 space station conducted an experiment (prepared by Lithuanian scientists Alfonsas Merkys and others), and grew some Arabidopsis using Fiton-3 experimental micro-greenhouse apparatus, thus becoming the first plants to flower and produce seeds in space.[209][210]

In 1920, when the first plan of electrification was drawn up, there were ten district power stations in the Soviet Union with a total power production of 253,000 kilowatts. In 1935, there were already ninety‐five of these stations with a total power of 4,345,000 kilowatts. A decade earlier, the Soviet Union stood eleventh in the production of electro‐energy; she was second only to Germany and the United States.[211] During the fiscal year 1927–1928 production of electrical energy in the Soviet Union amounted to 3,000,000,000 kilowatt hours, triple the antebellum figure.[212] (Lenin hisself noted that ‘Communism = Soviet power + electrification.’[213]) The Soviets prioritised nuclear power (which strained the environment less than conventional power).[214] In their key goal of electricity the Soviets were already doing better by 1990 than the leading European capitalist nations a quarter century later.[215] A neoreactionary hack recorded that there was even an anticommunist Chancellor who asked Fritz Todt in November 1941 ‘How is it possible that such a primitive people can reach such technical objectives in such a short period of time?’ This is evidenced almost a year later with the said anticommunist’s secret admission that ‘With respect to Russia, it is incontestable that Stalin raised the standard of living. The Russian people don’t go hungry [at the moment when Operation Barbarossa was launched]. In general, it’s necessary to recognize that they have built factories of similar importance to Hermann Goering Reichswerke where two years ago nothing but unknown villages existed. We come across railway lines that aren’t on the maps.[216]

Howard M. Leichter noted that the quality of Russian medical care had improved substantially during the short twentieth century;[217] at the Cold War’s height the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had a lower general mortality rate than Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[218] Professor Vicente Navarro agreed, concluding that ‘socialism and socialist forces have been, for the most part, better able to improve health conditions than have capitalism and capitalist forces’ and that ‘the evidence presented in this article shows that the historical experience of socialism has not been one of failure. To the contrary: it has been, for the most part, more successful than capitalism in improving the health conditions of the world’s populations.[219] Anthropometric data indicate that for decades Soviet life expectancy grew faster than any other homeland recorded at the time.[220] Abortions were freely permitted (with a few exceptions: the R.S.F.S.R. from 1936–1955, the P. Soc. Rep. of Albania, the Soc. Rep. of Romania, and the Rep. of Nicaragua); in fact the R.S.F.S.R. was the first country to fully deregulate the procedure.[221] Lobotomy was prohibited as early as 1950 in the Soviet Union.[222] Soviet physicians vaccinated millions of people (against cholera) in the early 1920s alone; they likewise made improvements in public services such as waterworks and sanitation. They not only vaccinated their citizens but also fed them, educated them about hygiene, and maintained the (prerevolutionary) administrative structure and system of emergency response.[223] Since 1955, the Soviets used a lyophilized rabies vaccine extensively; Likhachev developed the vaccine.[224] They vaccinated millions of people against measles in the 1970s.[225] Antirabies aid was fully decentralized and inoculation against rabies was carried out by a wide network of institutions for prevention and treatment.[226] Soviet scientist Mikhail Chumakov organized the first industrial production and mass use of oral poliovirus vaccine from Dr. Albert Sabin’s strains.[227] [228] After successful clinical trials conducted in the Soviet Union that left polio virtually wiped out with no safety issues, it soon became the vaccine of choice in the West.[229] In 1958 the Soviet Union proposed to the World Health Assembly that the World Health Organization undertake a global eradication programme of smallpox,[230] which was approved in 1959. Within a decade a number of countries embarked on mass vaccination campaigns, and the People’s Republic of China (among several other countries) successfully eliminated the disease.[231] The Soviets likewise gladly participated in the eradication of smallpox,[232] including in the Aral.[233] It was the Soviet scientists in 1972 who initiated a project to isolate a cancer virus in human cells. They freely shared the samples with Western scientists, who in turn shared their own samples of viruses that were provoking cancer in animals.[234] This was admittedly a relatively primitive project based on inadequate data, and consequently was mostly unsuccessful, but it was an important first step to eliminating another virus. (It was a result of the Lacy‐Zarubin and Bilateral Health Agreements, which in turn were inspired by the joint East‐West vaccination initiative that extinguished polio in the East and elsewhere. The cooperative efforts were possible ever since the U.S.S.R. returned to the World Health Organization in 1956 after a hiatus; they permitted free access to both external data and foreign scientists for the purpose of abolishing international problems.[235]) The Scientific Research Institute of Oncology and Medical Radiology of the Ministry of Health of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic pioneered the operation involving the transplantation of the left adrenal with the right adrenalectomy in people with advanced breast carcinoma. They demonstrated that objective remission in 70% of patients.[236] The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has immunized theirselves from diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.[237] During the short twentieth century (and since at least the 1970s), the People’s Republic of China prioritised not profit but the working masses’ welfare.[238]


Some antisocialists assert that a socialist economy would be just as pollutive—if not worse—than a capitalist one. Indeed, pollution and irresponsible use of the environment were very significant issues in the late U.S.S.R.; for example, a series of dry years in the 1970s (particularly 1974–1975) and low flows between 1982 and 1986 contributed to the Aral Sea’s desiccation, but overconsumption of the water for irrigation was another factor. The discontinuation of many Soviet industries has lead to a temporary reduction in CO₂ emissions;[239] United Nations data from 1990 indicate that the Soviet Union was emitting 13.5 tons of CO₂ per capita (which, while quite serious, was nevertheless still less troublesome than that of antisocialist states such as Australia (17.2), Canada (16.2), and Imperial America (19.1)).[240] Is the Red Flag Flying? also mentions internal disputes over other environmental issues in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.[241] But such difficulties can sometimes be traced back to the immense pressure to compete and defend against capitalist aggression; they are by no means structural to socialist theory.[242] For example, as early as 1845 Marx would recognise the damage that capitalist industry was causing the earth’s rivers,[243] and later Vladimir Lenin would inspire many ecosocialists in the U.S.S.R.[244] As early as 1917, forest conservation became one of Bolshevism’s duties,[245] and with one minor exception, the Politburo consistently rejected the drive toward hyperindustrialism in the forest: Moscow capitulated only briefly to the industrialists in 1929, and in the 1930s and 1940s it set aside larger tracts of the RSFSR’s most valuable forests as preserves, off-limits to industrial exploitation.[246] Song of the Forest[247] documents how the Soviet environment was treated during Stalin’s lifetime, and mentions specifically the Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature[248] that he spearheaded. Starting in the 1960s, the Soviets proposed a large‐scale project to redirect part of the flow of the Ob basin’s rivers to Central Asia over a gigantic canal system; replenishing the Aral Sea was considered as one of the project’s main goals.[249] (It was only due to its staggering costs and the negative public opinion in the R.S.F.S.R. that the federal authorities unfortunately relinquished the project by 1986. It may also be worth noting that, curiously, the worst effects of the sea’s desiccation manifested after the short twentieth century:[250] when a market economy was well in place.)

Socialists have also massively benefited the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria’s environment[251] in many ways,[252] and the Republic of ‘Cuba’s successful models of sustainable development — in areas of food, housing and health — are now being widely replicated throughout Latin America.[253] Over 73% of the DPRK’s electricity comes from clean sources[254] and the Republic of Cuba is slowly catching up with them.[255] (In contrast, only about 2% of South Korea’s energy comes from renewable sources.[256]) P.R.C. officials have planted scores of thousands of trees in response to climate change.[257] A modern planned economy[258] would strain the earth’s climate far less than another market economy.[259]

Soon after the evacuation of Pripyat in 1986 the Soviets extended the exclusion zone to 30 km radius from the site. It is estimated that they evacuated some 116,000 inhabitants from this zone. In later years they extended the evacuations to the Belarusan and Ukrainian regions that suffered the highest amount of radioactive fallout. As the region was abandoned it also became vulnerable to forest fires, which could have lead to dispersion of radioactive materials, so the Soviets extended the cleanup operation to cover the entire exclusion zone in order to prevent this. They carried out the operation in 1986–1990 and the total number of workers involved is estimated to have been around 600,000 (about half of whom were soldiers). The Soviets also imposed radiation dose limits and made an effort to follow them: in 1987 they set the annual dose limit for civilian workers to 250 mSv, which in later years they first lowered to 100 mSv and then to 50 mSv. They subjected military personnel to a higher wartime limit of 500 mSv for the first month but later they matched the limit with that of the civilian workers. (For comparison, the current Western safety limits for radiation workers are usually based on 100 mSv accumulated dose over a period of five years but somebody can temporarily raise the limits for emergency operations.)[260]

The Republic of Cuba also has the best response system in the Caribbean, with less than a hundred deaths in the past decade or so. They have successfully evacuated up to 1.5 million people and weathered the most catastrophic hurricanes to date. A big part of the Cuban resilience to hurricanes and similar extreme weather (compared to other Caribbean nations) is also that they have not cut down all their forests; it is a conscious decision to keep forests up as that keeps the force of winds down. (Comparatively: other islands get devastated as they have done more deforestation.) The Global Footprint Network has likewise evaluated the Republic of Cuba as being ecologically sustainable (in contrast to the U.S.A.),[261] in fact the Republic of Cuba is the only country in the world that meets WWF conditions of sustainable development, for both the Human Development Index and Ecological Footprint.


The accomplishments of socialists are rarely mentioned along with their mistakes. Often they are dismissed as either unimportant or uninteresting (they are neither), or sometimes only done in spite of their socialism (which is false). The reason usually given for dismissal is simply that they did not last long enough, but as mentioned earlier, the causes were never entirely internal, as one can see in the German Democratic Republic[262] for one example.

[E]very socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century — without exception — was either overthrown, invaded, corrupted, perverted, subverted, destabilized, or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States and its allies. Not one socialist government or movement — from the Russian Revolution to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to the FMLN in El Salvador — not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all‐powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. It’s as if the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god‐fearing folk of the world looked upon these catastrophes, nodded their heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Humankind shall never fly.

—William Blum, [263]

If anything, it is remarkable that socialists have accomplished so much in spite of their challenges, whereas capitalism’s tendency to erase competition is further proof of its corruption.

To paraphrase Michael Parenti:

[Socialist movements] in Eastern Europe, Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea, and Cuba, brought land reform, and human services; a dramatic bettering of the living conditions of hundreds of millions of people on a scale never before or never since witnessed in human history[.] [Socialist movements] transformed desperately poor countries into societies in which everyone had adequate food, shelter, medical care, and education… and some of us who come from poor families, who carry around the hidden injuries of class, are very impressed—are very, very impressed by these achievements, and are not willing to dismiss them as ‘economistic’. To say that socialism doesn’t ‘work’ is to overlook the fact that it did work and that it worked for hundreds of millions of people.

—Michael Parenti (paraphrased), [264]


  1. The Ewa reactor R1 in the Instytut Badań Jądrowych (Institute of Nuclear Research), started on July 13, 1954.
  2. Warszawa-Katowice, so called "Gierkówka", 1976.


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