Socialism: A world of big pots and atomic disasters

As God, the Bible and, in fact, any expression of Christianity are being unceremoniously driven out of our schools, colleges, and universities, evangelists of a entirely different brand of faith—Socialism—are moving in to proselytize America’s millennials.

Socialism, of course, has been around for more than one and a half centuries, and, moreover, it has been an unmitigated disaster wherever it has been tried. But, sadly, its tragic history, with some 200 million dead sacrificed on its altars, seems to have been forgotten by the education establishment and much of the media.

As a consequence, many of the younger generation are apparently finding its credo “from each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs” quite seductive.

A recently published and critically acclaimed book by Serhii Plokhy, director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard, serves as a valuable corrective by providing a glimpse of the ravages wrought by the socialist system on the former Soviet Union.

Entitled Chernobyl—The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, it is an analysis of the factors that led up to the fire and meltdown at the atomic power plant just outside the small town of Chernobyl in the Soviet controlled Ukraine in 1986.

Thanks to the habitual secretiveness, not to say paranoia, of the Soviet bureaucracy, people are still wrestling to assign ultimate blame for what remains the world’s worst recorded nuclear disaster—“worst recorded” because details of similar disasters might well still be suppressed by Moscow.

Indeed, the Soviets did their best to keep the Chernobyl disaster under wraps despite the deadly clouds of radioactive fallout that spread not only over a vast swathe of the former USSR, particularly Ukraine and Belarus, but also over northern Europe and Scandinavia.

For 18 days the Soviet apparatchiki remained silent. Firefighters struggling to contain the blaze and soldiers drafted for rescue work were deliberately left ignorant of the dangers they faced from radiation exposure. Neither did Moscow warn its own civilians or the threatened populations of Western Europe.

According to reviews, Mr. Plokhy lays blame for the disaster squarely on engineers who took shortcuts, on construction glitches, and on the top communist planners who dictated the pace of construction.

That said, the real villains of the piece are not the inept, incompetent, dishonest, and corrupt bureaucrats who designed, constructed and managed the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl. Ultimate blame for the disaster lies with Socialist system itself and its originators.

Indeed, Socialism’s role in the Chernobyl disaster should serve as an awful warning to those in this country who are currently tempted to embrace socialism as an antidote to the purported ills of capitalism.

The fundamental flaw in the Socialist system is its inflexible ideological foundation. Karl Marx insisted the system he propounded was actually an exposition of the social and economic evolution of our species. It was, he claimed, scientifically demonstrable—inexorable and unavoidable—and he dubbed it “Scientific Socialism.”

Arising from this doctrine of scientific inevitability is the dogma that the socialist system is perfect and all errors are human in origin because the system cannot be wrong.

The supposed scientific nature of the system similarly gave rise to a virtually religious faith in central planning. Thus in the USSR, all economic, industrial and agricultural activity was dictated by Gosplan, the vast, all-powerful central planning agency.

From 1921 until the system’s final collapse in 1991, Gosplan directed the Soviet economy with a series of Five Year Plans—the first from 1928 to 1932; the last from 1986 to 1990. The 1991 plan was about to be implemented when, mercifully, the USSR disappeared into the dustbin of history.

Other than Chernobyl, Gosplan’s crowning achievement is often cited as the “rapid” industrialization of the USSR under Josef Stalin in the 1920s and 30s. But this ignores the far more rapid rate of industria growth in Russia prior to the First World War when it boasted the fastest growing economy in the world.

Even the most sophisticated planning agency would find it impossible to discount the vast number of variables entailed in micromanaging even a primitive economy. And, in comparison with the technology available to planners in the West, Gosplan’s was scarcely sophisticated. Nor was the huge staff of highly-educated economists, industrial administrators, and agricultural experts capable of collecting, analyzing, and manipulating the vast quantities of data needed to manage all the facets of the entire Soviet economy.

Consequently, “the plan” often forced farmers to plant in adverse weather. Crops rotted beside fields because centrally planned transport was unavailable. Steel was of the wrong type and quality. Motor vehicles were produced with no provision for spare parts.

The process that led to the tragedy of the Chernobyl disaster is vividly illustrated by that which led to a total lack of small saucepans that occurred in 1970s Moscow. For the average three person Soviet family, it was a serious inconvenience to find only very large saucepans on sale: Trud, the trade union newspaper, investigated.

“When can we expect to see small saucepans?” the Trud reporter asked the manager of the factory that supplied Moscow.

“Never,” the manager replied, explaining Gosplan measured his production “norm” in the volume of steel the plant processed and, under the Five Year Plan, that “norm”—the Holy Grail of the Five Year Plan—increased annually.

“They never assign me more machinery or more workers,” he went on. “The only way to fulfil the increased ‘norms’ is to make the pots bigger. Sorry about that. My wife complains too. But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

So there, snowflakes! Do you really find a world of very large saucepans and nuclear catastrophes appealing? GPH✠

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