Wednesday, April 3, 2019

17 - Book Review: "The Socialist Phenomenon" by Igor Shafarevich

The Socialist Phenomenon

By Igor Shafarevich

Reviewed by John Sanidopoulos

I first read about this book some years ago in the Harvard lecture of Alexander Solzhenitsyn titled A World Split Apart, where he says:

It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.

I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich's book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the United States.
I recently read it, and though the copy I have, translated in 1980, is a difficult to read small cheap printing, it is most valuable in content that treats a complex subject with a broad overview. Shafarevich was a friend of the late Nobel Prize winning novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who provides a Foreword to this book) and served as an important critic of the Soviet regime and of future liberal proposals for the development of Russia. It completely dispelled the common myth that socialism or collectivism was created in the timeframe of the 18th century French Revolution or by Karl Marx. He traces the origins of socialism back to Plato, through the Middle Ages and up to Marx. Shafarevich identifies the points all socialist societies have: Destruction of private property rights, of the family, and of organized religion, particularly Christianity. Socialism has nothing to do with achieving economic parity and happiness through equitable distribution of materials and wealth. It was always a system of domination and control over the "masses". By his experience and studies, Shafarevich looks at collectivist philosophy coldly and without sentiment towards it. In fact it is evident that he found little if anything at all redeeming in the collectivist model.

The ancient Chinese, Incas, Greeks and all other so-called socialist civilizations were more similar than different in their basic philosophical underpinnings; and stand in sharp contrast to the individualism of the recent West. He demonstrates what a rare and precarious thing that individualism has been throughout history; and the spectacular loss it would be to let modern romanticists, dreamers, and lazy ignorant conformists drag the human race back into the misery and mediocrity that is collectivism...regardless of the form it takes.

Shafarevich writes from the perspective of a Russian Orthodox Christian and a Russian nationalist and as such provides a unique understanding in this light. The book provides a fascinating study on the history of socialism and an examination of the problems within socialist doctrines as held by Marxists. As such, this book remains an important and courageous book showing the errors that lie within the socialist impulse (which Shafarevich ultimately finds to be rooted within the death instinct) and unveils the Soviet state for the monstrosity it was. It is also just as relevant today as it was in the 20th century.