Crisis in Contemporary Socialism
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Dr.Lidia Sudyka




The selected fragments are from Kryzys w socjalizmie współczesym (“Crisis in Contemporary Socialism”), “Przegląd Współczesny” 1923, vol. VI, no. 9-10 (Jan-Feb), pp. 132-136.


   When the Bolshevik government seized power, it attempted to implement the maximal program, which argues for the necessity or the need to create new, rationalist forms of the collectivist economy, based on the public ownership of enterprises and on the abolition of all incomes apart from that coming from labor.

   The Bolshevik government tried to reconstruct the system around these new principles. However, it soon found out that there are components so deeply enmeshed in the economic mechanism that prizing them apart would mean the destruction of the entire mechanism, or would require such a large amount of energy that society would not be able to supply it.

   The construction of an economic system according to a “plan” and around new principles means tearing down the old building and erecting a new one. Yet when one tears down an old building one creates a void where nothing can be constructed, since everything that existed was destroyed during the period of negation. The economic mechanism is an arrangement of thousands of interrelated components. One can reform each individual part or a limited number of separate parts; then one is able to predict the direction and scope of the change inflicted on the rest of the mechanism. However, if one intends to transform all parts simultaneously, this will generate unpredictable chaos. When one alters the entire arrangement, when there is nothing fixed, when all components are thrown out of balance, one cannot predict the ultimate result of such revolutions. Even if the creation of new forms of economy is the work of a whole regiment of creative minds, it still requires a long time and a great effort to take shape. A violent revolution destroys the old apparatus, and since one does not have a new one and one cannot produce it immediately, one drives the country into ruin and destitution.

   The Bolshevik experiment is one of the most terrible, vast, and costly experiments ever undertaken by humankind. Moreover, the results of the experiment are also vast.

   After a few-years’ struggle against capitalism the Soviet government gave in and returned, at first indistinctly, then ever more forcefully, to capitalist forms. They came to the conclusion that it does not suffice to have the entire sovereign power, that it does not suffice to be able to act as one thinks fit in order to build a new system based on new principles. They found out that coercion and the army are sufficient only to transform institutions, but they are helpless in remaking the human mind. The Soviet government was helpless against the elemental economic forces, deeply ingrained in the human soul and in human instincts, against the forces of imagination that paralyzed its purposes and blew away the edifice it tried to construct.

   To enact socialism one must remake not only institutions, but also the human mind; one must remake motivation, weaken selfish capitalist motives, the desire for profit, while reinforcing altruistic motives, love of work, and the sense of duty. In a socialist system economic forces would be utilized in the interest of the collectivity, and not in the interest of particular individuals, the system would be organized around the principle of social purpose, and not around the principle of maximizing profit. If this system is to generate positive results, it is necessary that individuals be animated by the spirit of community and solidarity, that they really exercise their rights and economic activity not in their own interest, but in the interest of the community. A community is something intangible, and one needs a high level of ethical and intellectual development in order that the masses work willingly and selflessly for the interest of the community.

   The socialist system presupposes a mental transformation of man. Should this transformation not occur, should selfishness and the desire for profit still prevail in the human soul, the socialist system would become a parody of what it aimed at.

   The decisive and the strongest factor in shaping mutual relations in the functioning of a socio-economic system is the human soul, i.e. the cultural and ethical development of man, his views, his dispositions, his needs, and his motives.

   When the soul is depraved, corroded, worn away by the desire for profit, then even the best, the most perfect institutions will not help, “evil” will only assume a different form, and not necessarily a milder one. Sometimes it goes in the opposite direction: the remaking of institutions based on an idealistic program enhances “evil” and exploitation, makes them more ruthless, brutal, and visible. For it creates broader and easier fields for the release of individual egoisms. Collective institutions offer a great opportunity for making enormous and illegal profits. Only individualistic forms of industry correspond to egoism and capitalistic motives; only collective forms correspond to altruism and the sense of obligation.

   Combining individualistic forms with altruism and self-renunciation is an absurd waste of social energy, for many forces would not be made use of.

   Yet equally absurd are attempts to combine collective forms with egoism. Then too a great deal of social energy is wasted. Power exercised on behalf of society is in fact used to further individual ends, and not the goals of the community. Disinterest in the effects of production, alongside the prevalence of egoistic capitalist motives in a collective system, throws the whole apparatus of production out of gear.

   Contemporary socialism has put too strong an emphasis on the claim that institutions are the source of “evil” and exploitation; in contrast to its predecessor, utopian socialism, it lay exclusive stress on the need for transforming social and political institutions, while disregarding the forces inhabiting the human soul. It simply ignored them and left them out of the equation. This was the source of its failure. These forces are more important than external forces, than institutions. Institutions can be remade faster than the human mind, which cannot be transformed overnight. It takes several generations of quiet, day-to-day educational work and a legion of idealist pioneers to inculcate new principles of social morality.

   Full institutional control combined with the complete powerlessness of the party and its government against the forces active in the human soul meant no less than the disintegration and collapse of the maximal program.


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