This is an excerpt of part I of an article that eviscerates this falsehood.
Socialism is a lot like the bad guy in a low-budget horror movie, who, especially towards the end of the movie, just stubbornly refuses to die. He gets shot, he gets stabbed, he gets thrown out of a window, he gets run over by a car – but every time you think he could not possibly have survived this, he gets up again. And is as lethal as ever.
Socialism is like that. It used to be a common assumption that the history of socialism essentially ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, that no political idea could possibly survive such a crushing defeat. Far from it: in 1998, Venezuela elected a socialist president, giving socialism yet another try, and Western intellectuals went crazy about it. Now that experiment is collapsing, too. One final We-told-you-so-you-fools, you would think. Again: far from it.
The problem for the left is that they tend to discover that Failed Socialist societies weren’t really Socialist after the fact with some linguistic legerdemain of the highest order. The author of the piece cited some particular examples of the Left’s fondness for a particular system before failure:
In the 1930s, the Soviet Union went through a period of rapid industrialisation, and rose to the status of a global superpower. Even critics of socialism conceded that the Soviet Union was becoming a force to be reckoned with.
During the ‘30s, the USSR was widely admired by Western intellectuals. Hundreds of academics, journalists, artists etc travelled there and came back full of enthusiasm, convinced that they had seen the future. For example, Joseph Freeman, an American writer, said after his pilgrimage:
“[F]or the first time I saw the greatest of human dreams assuming the shape of reality. Men, women and children were uniting their efforts into a gigantic stream of energy directed toward […] creating what was healthy and good for all”.
These glowing comments extended to the happiness the political prisoners in the Gulags:
Some of the pilgrims even waxed lyrical about the Gulags and Soviet prisons. Mary Callcott Stevenson, an American author, said that the inmates she saw were
“…talking and laughing as they worked, evidently enjoying themselves. This was the first glimpse of the informal atmosphere that prevailed throughout […] It was difficult to believe that this was indeed a prison”.
This is, of course, a selection of quotes. Not all Stalin admirers were quite so starry-eyed. Others did acknowledge some of the regime’s atrocities, but argued that, on balance, it was a price worth paying. But the point remains that the Soviet Union was widely admired by Western intellectuals throughout the 1930s and beyond. The idea that Soviet socialism was not ‘real’ socialism is a post-hoc fabrication. In Stalin’s days, nobody would have made such a claim.
And of course it was only after it was readily apparent that the Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik was dysfunctional in the extreme that it suddenly stopped being Socialist, imagine that…