Friday, 14 September 2007

Whatever happened to the "smokestack socialist"?

I asked yesterday if readers could identify the author of this remarkably vigorous piece of prose in praise of human production:
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all the preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents or cultivation, canalisation or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even an inkling that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
These words, as I said, were written in the mid-nineteenth century - its author achieved worldwide popularity in the twentieth. How rare to hear such a hymn to human industry in the twenty-first.

I'm delighted that several knowledgeable readers identified the author as one Karl Marx -- a surprise perhaps to some who know the bearded apostle of "scientific socialism" only as the god of today's braindead man-haters. How come, you might ask, we so rarely hear such hairy-chested sentiments from socialists these days? The answer is quite simple: the abject failure of socialism to live up to the promise implied in the old fool's wee hymn to human production.

The old style hairy-chested, smokestack socialist was a fan of production -- of colossal productive forces, of the steam-driven subjection of nature by productive forces, forces that in earlier centuries had "slumbered in the lap of social labour" and had now erupted out of the feudal past in the promise of a glorious socialist future! Communism, said Lenin, is "socialism plus electricity"! Communism, Nikita Kruschev told Richard Nixon, will "bury the west." For many a socialist, the optimistic voice of socialism did sounded like the voice of the sunlit future.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of every socialist experiment ever tried, however, put paid to that dream.

The revelation when the Berlin Wall fell that socialist Eastern Europe was an economic, environmental and humanitarian basket case brought on a crisis for socialists worldwide that made it clear for all time that it was impossible to be an honest socialist. Socialism could not produce. Capitalism does. At this revelation, the smokestack socialist had three fundamental choices: either abandon support for socialism, or production, or of reason.
  • He could continue to revere production and human fecundity by abandoning socialism altogether (Christopher Hitchens is one of this honest breed), or he could try and shackle capitalist producers to his own socialist ends (Tony Blair, Jim Anderton and most of the Third Way 'social democrat' types adopted this approach).
  • Or: he could retain his socialism but abandon instead his praise of production and wealth. The environmental movement beckoned. In damning production he could continue the promotion of socialism as if nothing ever happened. If you've ever wondered at the take-over of the environmental movement worldwide by assorted Trotskyites, Maoists and Leninists, or by the number of Jim Anderton's former colleagues now at home in the 'Watermelon Party,' then this is your explanation.
  • Or: as Stephen Hicks so eloquently explains, he could abandon reason, science, and optimism altogether, and embrace instead the postmodern promotion of anti-reason, anti-science, double standards, and cynicism. As Hicks says in the thesis of his superb book Explaining Postmodernism, "the failure of [philosophy] made postmodernism possible; the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary."
The fall of the Berlin Wall was the crisis that created this mostly misbegotten diaspora, and it's the reason now that to be an honest socialist is no less impossible than it is to find an honest lawyer.


  1. as Stephen Hicks so eloquently explains, he could abandon reason, science, and optimism altogether

    Overall more indicative of the Right than the Left at this point in history.

    The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of every socialist experiment ever tried, however, put paid to that dream.

    True, and very sad -- more and more governments are leaning to the left, and the failure to win hearts and minds and get the ideas across is something conservatives must take the blame for.

    Someone said this many years ago - and how true it has turned out to be...

    "Todays "conservatives" are futile, impotent and, culturally, dead. They have nothing to offer and can achieve nothing. They can only help to destroy intellectual standards, to disintegrate thought, ro discredit capitalism, and to accelerate this country's uncontested collapse into despair and dictatorship."

  2. I meant *not* true re the Berlin Wall putting paid to the socialist dream - it's still alive and well.


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