Here is a simple question that will tell you whether you believe in capitalism, communism or socialism.
A and B are two adults of sound mind. A has a lawful business. A offers B a job.
That’s all you know. The question is this: “Should B be allowed to accept A’s offer?”
Believers in capitalism will say, “Yes”. In communism, “No”. In socialism, “Maybe.”
“Capitalism” has different meanings to different people. To me, it just means the free market. To others it means a system where those with capital have advantage. Here “capitalism” means the free market. Please note that many capitalists, perhaps most, do not believe in capitalism. They don’t like free market competition and use various means, including cabals and the lobbying of politicians, to shut out competitors.
The essence of socialism is state control. Its extreme form is communism, where the state has complete control.
Answering the above question, the communist will say “No” because he hates private enterprise and wants everybody to work for the state. The believer in capitalism wants free to engage in business as they wish.
The socialist believes in some state control, including control over employment, so he first wants to know the conditions of A’s job offer before approving it or not. In South Africa, where the minimum wage is R3,500 a month, if A offered B a job at R3,400 a month, the socialist would say that B should not be allowed to accept the offer. He would prefer B starved to death. Why does he have this extreme belief, which seems wicked to reasonable people? The answer lies at the heart of socialism, and it is a question of class.
Karl Marx was obsessed by class, subconsciously laying bare the true reason for socialism.
In the Communist Manifesto (published 1872), Marx gave the most vivid description of the enormous productive powers of capitalism. (He used the word “bourgeoisie” to mean “capitalists”.) However, the passage below, perhaps the most perceptive one ever written on economic history, is the key to understanding socialism:
“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’.”
Marx was absolutely right about this. Capitalism did, indeed, destroy the old feudal relationship, where the peasant worked for the baron because of the higher status of the baron, and replaced them with commercial relationships, where the factory worker worked for the factory owner because they had agreed on an employment contract. He worked for the money rather than because of his place in the class hierarchy. Under capitalism, anybody could work for anybody else under a voluntary contract of employment. Contract replaced status. The lower classes were as free as the upper classes to do business on a purely monetary basis. There were no special privileges for any class. And this is what socialists deeply hate; with a hatred that goes far back in history and indeed beyond history.
All social animals have rigid hierarchies; everyone knows their place in the social order. You can see this clearly among dogs today. If you are at the top of the hierarchy, you can mate with anyone you please, eat first and order everybody else about. Everybody else submits to you; you are considered naturally superior. Humans were the same but developed the class system, which took hierarchy one step further. Classes of humans considered themselves superior to other classes, and thought it only natural that they should control the economic activity of the lower classes.
All socialists believe they belong to a superior class, and believe that they should control the business activities of the lower classes. A large majority of them are snobs, who can’t bear the thought of ordinary, working class people, doing business among themselves as they wish. The worst snobs on Earth are found at universities, which explains why so many academics are socialists. Marx himself, a roaring snob, recognised that capitalism destroyed the notion of “natural superiors” but, by a very interesting psychological inversion, suggested a system, communism, which would return new “natural superiors” to rule the economy. In Russia in October 1917, feudalism returned, with the Communist Politburo replacing kings and barons. Lenin was the new Czar. The working classes were treated like the serfs of old. Around the world, the superior classes at universities applauded loudly.
This is why socialists support minimum wages. They just hate the thought of some poor, lower class businessman (usually a black one in South Africa) becoming an employer. They think only the rich upper classes should provide jobs; hence why only large corporates are capable of pricing in the minimum wage, whereas smaller entrepreneurs would have no hope of complying with it.
The heart of socialism is the class system. Whether it is Julius Malema or Vladimir Lenin or Fidel Castro or your Professor of Sociology, all socialists believe they belong to a superior class entitled to rule the inferior classes.
Andrew Kenny is a professional engineer and a freelance journalist