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Saturday, November 9, 2019

Memories of Socialism

Socialism is nothing to play around with. It is a highly dangerous ideology, always with serious consequences when it is put to work. Here are my memories from socialism in Europe.

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It has now been 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell. It was a great day for the free world when half of Europe was liberated from the shackles of socialism. It was also the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union itself. 

By the very nature of time, fewer and fewer people have living memories of the Berlin Wall, the structure that the East German government called "the anti-fascist bulwark". As a result, the horrors of socialism are slowly drifting into oblivion.

We must never let that happen. We must never stop educating about the evils of socialism. 

Many young people today call themselves "socialists", decry capitalism and liberty and pledge allegiance to an abstract idea of "equality" and "diversity". Not realizing that socialism offers the exact opposite of those values, they fall for the lure of an abstract ideal, ignoring the fruits of liberty before them. 

The first and foremost character trait of socialism is, namely, precisely the opposite of what today's identity socialists strive for. Socialism demands conformity.

It conforms you as a consumer. Only the goods and services offered by government, are permitted for consumption. 

It conforms you as a student. You are told what school to go to, what to study and what to do with your degree. You are told what to think; those who express dissenting views, who veer from socialist doctrine, are branded for hate speech. Their families, too, will suffer the consequences. 

Socialism conforms you as a worker. You have the absolute right to a job - and government picks that job for you. Your job will be one that fits the central economic plan of the government. 

It conforms you as a citizen. Lifestyle choices are potential threats to socialist doctrine. If you express the desire to start a business, you threaten socialist economic governance. If you express interest in setting up a theatre and write plays about what your creative mind suggests - you are deemed a threat to socialist political governance. 

If you are gay or in any other way express an identity that is not condoned by government, you are a threat to socialist cultural governance. 

Any person who diverts, sticks out from the crowd, who veers from the main path of society, is deemed to break the ranks. Anyone who breaks the ranks is a potential threat to the socialist order. Nowhere was this better explained, with a plethora of examples, than in Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago

But even when socialism comes in the form of a welfare state - where totalitarianism is confined to half the economy - it demands conformity. It demands that you hand over the decisions over your life to government. It should not take a Berlin Wall to demonstrate what socialism leads to, but it helps. It helped me. I saw it in person the year before the Wall fell. 

It was one of the most formative experiences in my life. It was easy to study up on the evils of socialism, and growing up in Sweden I had already experienced the "light" version of that abhorrent ideology. But to see its full-blown version in real life; to walk along "the anti-fascist bulwark" and see how it was there to keep people in, not keep them out; put a very grim, very real twist on socialism. 

Today, you would have to travel to the Korean peninsula to see something like it. However, it wasn't just the experience of the Wall itself that was so strong. It was seeing the very lives that people lived in Soviet-controlled Europe. How they were scared of speaking to a foreigner - a westerner - and how they were all worried that the guy next to you might be a government informant. 

It was a stark experience to see what everyday life was like, to see the rationed and low-quality supply of goods and services. In the name of economic redistribution, government determined the quantities and qualities of consumer products, of your health care, your children's daycare, the pension you got, the apartment you were assigned. 

Some of that I already experienced in Sweden. The political architects of the Swedish welfare state wanted the full Soviet-style experience, but never quite got there. 

My visits to the Soviet Empire allowed me to see what was awaiting us, should Sweden take the last few steps into the fold of all-out socialism. In the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, people waited for years to buy a car. If they went by train, they often needed government-provided permission to do so. 

There was a constant presence of police that could stop you anywhere, ask for your ID and whisk you off to jail for no apparent reason. 

A few years before I went to eastern Europe, during a visit to Leningrad in the Soviet Union, I was told not to go to certain parts of town. As a westerner I would get arrested. The socialist government did not want people from the outside to see the squalor, the deplorable conditions under which many people lived in the Marxist utopia. 

In Budapest, I was sitting among a group of students outside a cafe when police walked up and started demanding ID from everyone. No reason. Just to make them know exactly that - you go about your life on the premises that government will determine. 

In East Berlin I was accosted by police for being too curious about the Wall. I wanted to walk along it, follow it wherever it went. In a busy pedestrian-only street, a cop comes up to me and starts harassing me until he had determined I was a foreigner. As a subject of the Leninist government, you were not allowed to show any interest in the wall that was supposed to keep the victims of capitalism from over-running the socialist paradise. 

These experiences helped reinforce my vision of the horrors of socialism, from the lack of fundamental liberty to how that ideology invaded the minutest details in life. It dictates where you can live, what career you can have, what you can say, what you can buy, where you can go on vacation. 

It is all based on two premises: 

  • Equality for all; and 
  • If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. 

What is so often forgotten is that government determines the meaning of "equality" and of "nothing to hide". Your life is not provided for by government. Your life is at the mercy of government.

Another forgotten fact is that socialism does not begin at the doorstep of tyranny. It begins with the benevolent premise of equality in outcomes. Economic redistribution is the inroad to a continuum that does not end until - again - your life is entirely at the mercy of government. 

Ayn Rand is credited with saying that the difference between the welfare state and the totalitarian state is a matter of time. Having grown up in Sweden, and having seen the full gamut of socialism upfront, I can only testify to the veracity of her words. No doubt, my life in "socialism light" was in many ways better than what it was for those in eastern Europe, but the Swedish welfare state was already then showing signs of ailment. 

The distance between life in "The People's Home" as the Swedish socialists called it, and The People's Hell in eastern Europe, was shrinking, bit by bit. Many Swedish socialists tried to bring Sweden into the full-scale socialist fold (with Olof Palme at the helm). With one major episode of instability, they would have succeeded.

Socialism constantly tried to expand its empire. The Cold War was never as cold and calm as history now portrays it. Europe was on the brink of war on two occasions, and tensions eased and escalated many times. Ultimately, it was only thanks to the men and women of America's military that half of Europe remained in relative freedom. 

The only thing that kept West Berlin a free city was a line of Americans, who said "if you want to destroy freedom, you are going to have to walk through me." All of you who served during the Cold War: the fact that you stood there, that you were prepared to go and fight at a moment's notice; that you were willing to lay down your lives for total strangers; literally made a world of difference.

I owe you all a big Thank You. 

I also want to recognize Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, great leaders of the 1980s, for their steadfast, anti-socialist leadership. Together, they finally brought the Evil Empire to its knees. I want to thank them for liberating half a billion people from Saxony to Sakhalin. 

Let us never forget what President Reagan said: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." 

Socialism is not a light switch. It is a continuum. It begins with the seemingly benevolent ambition to ask the rich to pay "their fair share". It ends with the termination of the rich themselves. When socialists run out of rich people, they come to you.

If you object, they come for you. 

Socialism taxes you, asks you to give up some of your health benefits for the greater good. It demands that you send your kids to the school that the socialists designate for them. It promises to take care of you when you are sick and when you grow old. 

Then, as socialism runs out of money, it defaults on its promises. And when you complain that socialism didn't keep its promises, your complaints are deemed "counter revolutionary". Or, as we know it today: "hate speech". 

Under socialism, you do not determine what is hate speech. Government does. You do not determine who is offended by words. Government does. 

There is no part of our lives that is safe from socialist incursions. There is no part of the world that is safe. Kansas or Kazakhstan, Alabama or Australia, Wyoming or Westphalia... it does not matter where you live. 

Once we lose the memory of what it is like to live without liberty, we lose liberty itself.

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