Collectivist Stagnation: A look at how collectivism leads nowhere
Communists and their ilk frequently state the needs for social justice and that the market cannot provide for all the needs of people adequately. They present a string of bleeding heart causes (nevermind that it is the state that causes these hardships) and conclude that socialist forced collectivism must be enacted to accommodate these “needs”. However, history has shown that these various schemes to be abject failures.
Proponents will bring up numerous examples, whether Native Americans or anarchist Spain or Israeli kibbutzes; sometimes the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China as well. Marxism and collectivism leads to complete stagnation in an economy. It rarely, if at all, leads beyond farming. Participants find themselves plowing fields and doing little else.
Let us presume that the Native Americans indeed were collectivist. We can see the result of that: few advanced beyond hunter-gathering and basic agriculture (rudimentary at best for most groups). Thus, when the Europeans arrived, they were no match whatsoever for the weaponry and disease brought to them. The natives actually showed an inclination towards acquiring weapons and other European technologies (horses), which would advance their societies, but ultimately, it was disease that did them in. They took their losses out upon their new neighbors, who did not like being attacked relentlessly and fought back, slaughtering the rest. There was little the market could do in this rapid decay.
Anarchist Spain I am less familiar with, but we can see that it ultimately failed.
Israeli kibbutzes, once a purported great socialist marvel, is now a subsidized and largely decollectivized operation. The collectivist scheme appeared to work at first, but eventually received subsidies to put on a better theatre production. When left to their devices, kibbutzes were poverty-stricken hellholes. Everyone farmed or provided other basic needs, such as child care (someone needs to watch the kids as the grownups farm!). It would not be long before kibbutzniks realized their schemes were leading to “collective” personal stagnation. At first, they took it upon themselves to enter the greater market, producing goods for money that could advance their lives. This better life and the world just beyond the kibbutz became more attractive. People left kibbutzes in droves and they are now subsidized by money stolen from other Israelis. Today, they are more a tourist attraction or a museum than anything, not to mention externally marketist.
The Soviet Union is obviously gone today, but when it did exist, we know what happened. Lenin quickly and quietly realized that collectivism would not work. He cleverly adopted a “New Economic Policy”, which reduced collectivism and opened the markets. Stalin later forced collectivism on unwilling Soviet citizens. This lead to vast starvation and death, as well as stagnation. The Soviet Union did not really remain collectivist for much time. They saw the awful life it kept people in (as farmers) and marketism returned. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was technologically where the West was in the 1960s. The reason for it to have advanced beyond agriculture is due to internal and external marketism. The Soviet Union did have money after all, as well as vast resources to burn up before ultimately the house collapsed.
In China, a similar thing occurred, so I wont go into detail. Starting in the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping reduced collectivism and allowed the market to flourish. Over the next three decades, China began to surge from a farming backwater to a fierce, world power with a strong and still-growing economy. It will reach a painful ceiling at some point unless the collectivism and state interference are completely removed, but for now we can see the market fueling advancement for Chinese people.
Collectivism cannot advance far beyond farming. The market is needed to advance lives to where most people want them to be. The father of modern collectivism himself noted this, whether he realized it or not. Karl Marx famously stated the maxim “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Our needs are food, water, and shelter, and that is all collectivism can provide. If we have wants, the market must be utilized. Thus, Marx is completely correct in his assertions. His followers, however, have not realized that wants are not needs and Marxist polities will never advance beyond “needs”.
Originally written on 30 January 2011.