Spanish – Understanding the true nature of socialism is indispensable so that the majority consciously defends the liberty upon which the spontaneous order of civilization depends. Among many essential books on this topic, today, we are discussing The Socialist Phenomenon by Igor Shafarevich.
In 1898, at Harvard University, Solzhenitsyn announced that “the mathematician Igor Shafarevich, member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, wrote a brilliantly-argued book (…), a piercing historical analysis that demonstrates how socialism, of any type, leads to the destruction of the human spirit and the leveling of humanity in death.
It is impossible for those who haven’t lived under socialism to comprehend why the laureate member of the Soviet Academy came to no longer support the ideology despite being an asset of Soviet power and why he would risk his life to study and expose the beast.
Shafarevich was born in 1923 in a Ukraine decimated by Bolshevik terror. He lived in Moscow when Lenin initiated the kulk extermination that imposed a genocidal famine in Ukraine: the Holodomor. Shafarevich remembered that in his childhood in Moscow, the humble caretaker of a church was hanged on the porch. He also remembers the persecution of writers, artists, scientists, and engineers as enemy classes, agents of the international bourgeoisie and/or Trotskyist-Bukharinist traitors during his adolescence.
He grew up during the peak of the war of the socialist state against its people. As a son of a Russian intellectual resigned to oblivion, he reads the philosophical and historical classics in his father’s curated library. He considered dedicating himself to history – a sure ticket to the Gulag- but discovered in the mathematical profession a refuge for his creativity with the least possible political risks. When he was 14, Shafarevich joined the Faculty of Mechanical Mathematics at the University of Moscow. He graduated at age 17. He defended his first doctoral thesis at 119. At 23, he received the unusual superior title of Doctor. The mathematical genius, although not a communist, proved too valuable for Soviet power. He was expelled from the university between 1949 and 1953 but was not imprisoned. Shafarevich received the Lenin Award in 1959. The socialist power displayed him proudly as an example of the new Soviet man.
No one is innocent under totalitarian socialism. And those who are close enough to be innocent, their conscience, which seems absent in the rest of the population, torments them. Shafarevich’s conscience took him back to his primary interest: history.
In the early 1970s, a book was circulated underground in the USSR, Russia. It was edited by Solzhenitsyn and included Shafarevich’s socialism in our past and future. Its publication in the West revealed the dissident Shafarevich to the world.
Mauricio Rojas explains in the remarkable prologue to the 2015 Spanish edition of The Socialist Phenomenon that Soviet power depended on two unbreakable dogmas:
- Marxism is the science of history, distinct from and contrary to any religious superstition or metaphysical speculation. Marx, they asserted against all evidence, discovered the universal laws of history which prescribe the triumph of revolutionary socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and communism as the destiny of humanity; or what remains of it after the revolutionary “melting pot.”
- Soviet socialism is a type of social order without any historical precedence whereby once humanity could rise rapidly, free of selfishness and antagonism, and make its way to unlimited abundance once it overcame oppression.
The socialist phenomenon – of which socialism in our past and future was seminal – demolishes these dogmas by analyzing the history of the socialist idea and real socialism established by Soviet power.
Shafarevich denies the supposed Marxist science by pointing out that this utopian and messianic line of thinking in the West goes from Plato to Marx. He finds the origin of all Marxist dogmas in heretical Christian sects that between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance devised the archetypes that Marx copied: apocalyptically reborn humanity, new man, enlightened avant-garde, and absolute subordination to the collective. There were even a triumphant revolution and the establishment of totalitarian power, already in 1547. Marx’s “science,” Shafarevich explains, copied the archetypes of a very ancient revolutionary quest for an earthly paradise that always ended in totalitarian terror, misery, and death.
Marxism rewrote heretical Christian Millennialism with Hegel’s philosophy and Feuerbach’s atheism. So is it a religion? According to N. Berdiaev, R. Tucker, M. Rojas, and others, yes. Not for Shafarevich. For him, religion is the instinct of life that leads towards human diversification.
Moreover, socialism denies life itself through a leveling that pursues death. I agree with Shafarevich that socialism is the denial of life itself. And adoration of death. Not that it is not religion. It is a morally inconsistent religion. What for Shafarevich cannot be -by definition- religion.
Shafarevich’s analysis of the radical inversion of terms between Christianity and communism and his revelation of death as the goal of Marxist dogma is subtle and essential. He best explained that socialism “can only be understood if we admit that the idea of the extinction of humanity can be attractive (…) and that the impulse of self-destruction (…) plays a role in human history.”
Shafarevich then explains that the USSR was not the first regime of total subordination of the individual to the collective through the abolition of private property. The practice was, in fact, the most common one in early ancient empires, from Asia to the Inca: the subjugation of individual freedom and private property were as common as forced labor, large-scale central planning, and the manipulation of history, censorship, and totalitarian propaganda. Those at the top of the hierarchy have unlimited power, and there exist no individual rights to limit state power. There is nothing new in Soviet socialism, except atheism and access to technologies, which it did not create, but uses as new tools of oppression of previously unimaginable possibilities, concludes Shafarevich.