Communism, Socialism, And Welfare Statism

A reader writes:

Dear Mr. Harvey: What is the difference between communism, democratic socialism, and welfare statism?

— Sincerely Confused

Dear Sincerely Confused: First of all, Mr. Harvey is my dad. Please call me Ray.

Communism is a species of the genus socialism; it is one of the many variations on that tired theme. Communism explicitly calls for the violent overthrow of government. In theory, it is an anarchist ideology, believing that the state will one day magically “wither away,” as Karl Marx famously phrased it, though only after an unspecified period of gigantic bureaucratic control. Of course, in the long and blood-soaked history of communism, the state has never withered away, and never will. Why? Once entrenched, bureaucracy is impossible to retrogress away from.

Democratic socialism, on the other hand, doesn’t advocate the violent overthrow of government but intends to use force peacefully. By definition, by its very nature, socialism must resort to force because it must expropriate people’s money and other property in order to redistribute it. That is the distinguishing characteristic of any and all forms of socialism: government control of property and the means of production (which is one of the reasons so-called corporatism is another variation on socialism).

One must never forget: socialism is by definition an ideology of force.

Not all liberals are socialists — in large part because most of them don’t even know what “socialism” means, and it is for this reason also that many liberals, and, for that matter, many conservatives, are socialists and do not even know it.

Welfare statism is not exactly the same thing as democratic socialism. Welfare statism wants all the wealth and advantages that capitalism and private property creates, but at the same time, it wants to undermine the very things that makes all that wealth possible. Welfare statism takes for granted the advantages of capitalism — it wants to hold power over the producers of wealth — yet it wants those same wealth-producers to keep producing it for them. It is a short-sighted ideology the prevalence of which dominates academia from sea to shining sea.

The welfare state, which is what we live in today and have for some time, is the result of what von Mises called the “hampered or mixed market economy.” It is not identical to socialism proper, primarily because it is not explicit enough, but it too is a variation on the same theme.


  • Nice Try

    May 12, 2010

    I love this bs capitalist propaganda which doesn’t take into account all the pollution and environmental degradation capitalism caused.

    Nice try, Ray.

  • Ray

    May 13, 2010

    Nice try, Nice Try. You succeed in refuting absolutely nothing at all. So long as the capital base of a society — any society — remains limited, the means of dealing with societal issues necessarily remains limited. This includes the environment. The wealthier the country, the healthier the country.

    Which is why underdeveloped countries are more polluted (by far) and destroy more woods, water, and wetlands (by far) than wealthier countries.

  • E.A. Blair

    May 13, 2010

    Hey Nice try – have you ever looked at the environmental record of socialism?

    faaaaar worse than the record of “capitalist” countries. But I don’t know if you could call west Germany very “Capitalist”

    Following the worldwide collapse of communism, almost all these claims proved to be false, none more so than the promise to protect the environment. After the Iron Curtain crumbled and uncensored reporting became possible, academics and the popular press rushed to document the massive environmental devastation in the Soviet zone.2

    The West German magazine Der Spiegel indignantly branded communist East Germany as an “ecological outlaw of the first rank,” noting, for example, that the Buna chemical works in the East dumped ten times more mercury into its neighboring river in a day than a comparable West German plant did in a year. The same article also reported that each of the two-cycle cars commonly operated in the East emitted one hundred times as much carbon monoxide as a western auto equipped with a catalytic converter.

    Elaborating on the air pollution problem, an article in Current History pointed out that East German sulphur dioxide emissions per capita were the highest in the world; the burden of that particular pollutant exceeded the corresponding figure for capitalist West Germany by a factor of twelve.

    Don’t forget Chernobyl

    * The Chernobyl accident in 1986 was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.
    * The resulting steam explosion and fires released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere and downwind.
    * Two Chernobyl plant workers died on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people died within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning.

    The April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyla nuclear power plant in the Ukraine was the product of a flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operatorsb. It was a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture.

    Oh yeah and the Aral Sea

    In the early 1960’s, the Soviet central government decided to make the Soviet Union self-sufficient in cotton and increase rice production. Government officials ordered the additional amount of needed water to be taken from the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea.

    Today, Muynak is a desert town more than a hundred kilometers from the sea. The only reminders of the once thriving fishing activity are the rusting hulks of ships and an ancient fish plant. The sea has shrunk to two-fifths of its original size and now ranks about 10th in the world. The water level has dropped by 16 metres and the volume has been reduced by 75 percent, a loss equivalent to the water in both Lakes Erie and Huron. The ecological effect has been disastrous and the economic, social and medical problems for people in the region catastrophic. All 20 known fish species in the Aral Sea are now extinct, unable to survive the toxic, salty sludge.

    Shall I continue?

    How about Mao’s War on the Environment?

    Do some reading before you write next time.


    E.A. Blair

  • E.A. Blair

    May 13, 2010

    By the way Ray

    Love the graphic – I recognize it from somewhere… some other persons blog used I think…

  • Gracie Gragg

    November 15, 2012

    So same thing is gonna happen because of the BP oil spill of gulf of Florida. By the way they were convicted with manslauter. And you all about the envirnment. Thanks for your answere. I thought it had something to do with governments and other counteries. We have no right to intererfer with other counteries affairs.

  • garry moss

    February 18, 2013

    You are all full of crap. You all run around, trying to figure out nicer words trying to find some high brow critical explanation for different terms, unable to come to a consensus on those terms that are all central to the same idea that government is smarter than the people, who are too stupid to be free, and should be in control. Let’s throw off the sophistication and just call it what it all is and settle for a term that carries the proper amount of disdain that the stupidity of ideology deserves–Communism.

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