Someone made a point on reddit Socialism being an ideal, quote: Why does socialism have to be pure and true, for it to work or be “real socialism” but capitalism works even if not complete? by tfowler11, to which this reply.
I guess there are several perspectives on your point. First of all, it all starts with the fact that Capitalism is a failure. The suffering under Capitalism in the 1800s was great, and included slavery in all its forms. That failure produced resistance, but the resistance did not quite know what they want. Some formed labor Unions, others Socialist, Anarchist, Communist and other parties. They strived for an ideal: not the terrible suffering of Capitalism or Feudalism anymore. The super rich Capitalists also had their say on this matter, because they manipulate everything with their money. It was they who decided that Lenin should win in Russia, just as they decided to let Hitler win in Germany.
Where their funding went, the propaganda was greatly more effective, and people seem to be susceptible to it, just as people today watch TV and tend to belief it. Who owns the TV today ? The super rich do, the Capitalist super rich do. When they need it, they use it for war. Another failure of Capitalism I guess. Hence what you get is that a particular brand of Socialism or Communism wins out, with the help of the super rich Capitalists, which becomes a failure. It is another failure, where Capitalism was and remains a failure.
Should it be surprising that the super rich invest in a brand of Socialism that will eventually become a failure ? I don’t think it should be surprising, because that is one of their most important interests. They do not want the serfs to free themselves, live well, and have that spread to them, if such a thing is even possible. So they chose to sponsor the totalitarian plan economy, Marxist – Leninist Communism. Everything centralized. Indeed I would argue that this is the height of Capitalism. Everything is ruled by the Capital, by the de-facto owners of the Capital goods, trade is crushed, initiative is crushed, and any sort of internal democracy is also crushed (Leninism, which centralizes the Revolution itself).
How divergent the details of the Socialist ideal can be, can be seen in how for example I am using that term to cover a free market economy where people have more freedom and more initiative capability than ever happened under Capitalism – the whole system is designed around a free market – and then compare that to how the Communist Revolution destroyed the Russian villages where people already owned their inalienable right to land in a distributive system (which is how it should be). Their Socialism literally destroyed what I view as being Socialist. It is direct opposites. I would think it Socialist to have an open council Government, maximum democracy, but under Lenin and the Bolshevicki (a minority) they wanted an absolute autocratic State. Marx even called this “the dictatorship of the proletariat” which I always thought meant a democracy, but apparently it did not. Hence it becomes difficult to lump all attempts to resolve the failure of Capitalism in one heap, even if they use the same name, and call on them to defend the failure of what is an opposing view on how to resolve that problem.
Then there is the fact that Socialism is an ideal, and you can rightly say that as long as that ideal has not been reached, it is not truly worthy of carrying that name. That may seem unfair, but the same applies to Capitalism. Capitalism also is an ideal, it purports to make everyone equally rich according to the work they put in. All parties – and that can include Nations – would happily trade with each other, rather than rob, steal and oppress. That ideal is not reached either by Capitalism. You could argue that both Capitalism and Socialism both need to grow and develop, in order to get closer to their ideal.
I can see quite clearly now how that can happen, because free land for all is a common ground between those Capitalists who are on the “free trade” side of that definition (as opposed to the Oligarchy side of that definition), and those Socialists / Anarchists who are on the personal liberation, creative work and democracy side of that definition. For the pro-trade camp, free land for all with the right to rent it out should be the key to unlock the economy permanently for all, to really have a lively dynamic market, and it resolves the problem of the unemployed, and thus also in part the problem of war (in the sense that war is created to destroy excess population and social unrest by the hungry). Who has land, has work, period. There can be hunger and problems, but you can do something.
For the Socialists it is their way of finally coming to grips with what trade is and how we need it, how it needs to be embedded in a social view of society. For the economists it is even easier, because they already know that all value is created by human effort, and that land is not part of that. Land – the place – is a given, it is a starting point for work, not a produced product. Moreover, once you introduce the ability to swap and rent land, you have all the benefits of land markets back also (the ability to get more if your operation needs and warrants it).
Incidentally this is where the circle closes, because many Americans do not seem to understand yet that Capitalism is a failure. I think one reason for that is their history with free land for all. For a long time there have been many small land owners in America, which was the bedrock of a vibrant and functioning market. I think that is where the American obsession with Capitalism may come from, but they attribute the honor wrong now. They think it was Capitalism, but rather it was free land. Now that the land is more and more centralized in the USA, the misery produced by Capitalism is getting worse and worse. I know it is a rough picture, and that the land was won by war, and that particularly in the South, Capitalism raged high with its slavery plantations, but there seems to be an aspect of this in the American psyche.
Then we can still address the issue that some people do not agree that modern Capitalism is a failure. Notice how Capitalism has been softened a lot by Socialist measures, such as unemployment benefits, old age benefits, sick leave and State funded insurance, one law for all, laws that prohibit bosses from causing bad working conditions, etc. Perhaps last but not least: it is possible that the Capitalist super rich have become fearful enough for the masses of workers, having analyzed the Revolutions of the past, that they now keep these Social measures in a basically Capitalist system alive, in fear of seeing another overthrow of their power. In that sense, any sort of success that one can ascribe to modern Capitalism, would have to be ascribed at least to it being a mixed economy. It has both Capitalist, free trade, socialist and plan-economic elements. This was not the case in the 1800s, when the suffering under Capitalism was great, and the hatred for Capitalism was furious and well deserved.
(Jos Boersema. Recently doing some propaganda efforts on reddit, using this reddit account.)