I think the concept of TL;DR is rather unfortunate (for the reader and/or the writer!); but, surprisingly this piece can be summed up rather easily so; so I'll do one. Just keep in mind a snack is a poor substitute for a balanced meal; though, probably better than not eating at all. Scroll on down to the bottom for it, if you want it. Anyway, onwards...
Let's see if I can coherently collect some of my thoughts on the dirty, 'S,' word: socialism (as well as communism, perhaps an even dirtier word). Also: I haven't read any of Marx's works. However, I feel well read enough and informed to a healthy degree on the subject matter to write confidently. That may or may not be true. However, After a lot of editing, I feel this piece of writing might just be a boat load of wordy crap; but, in the event that's not true, or perhaps entirely true, feel free to read on. A lot went into this and I'd rather not discard it...
In my personal opinion, very few people even know what socialism/communism is; and the few who do know, probably would have a very difficult time explaining it. Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Trotskyism, Leninism, and the like, in my opinion, are not really concepts one can have, 'explained,' to them, anymore than some one could explain to you how to become a professional basketball player. Some one could explain the rules of basketball to you, and then hand you a ball; but, as far as turning that knowledge of the game's rules into the skill required to play professionally, that takes a lot of personal effort. Every professional basketball player has an understanding of the game that is rather unique to them, and likewise, their story, of following that path, will be different.
So, how does that analogy translate. Why do so few people know what socialism/communism is? The reason, I would assert, is because there is a high entrance fee to it's understanding. A certain level of intellectual muscle is required to really understand it. Some one who has read Marx can't just boil it down for you. That's not to say it can't be, 'done,' it just means that, there is a minimum required effort, on the part of the individual. Having me, or anyone else, lift a 10lb weight for you, isn't going to build you any of those requisite intellectual muscles. Furthermore, many people are not intellectually, inclined, by nature. The business man, the beautician, the athlete, and so on and so forth, although arguably perfectly capable of intellectual pursuits, may have no interest in them.
So there are, at the outset, those who are naturally, or for whatever reason, inclined, to be interested in intellectual pursuits; and therefore, the understanding of socialist/communist philosophy comes natural to them. You could perhaps, learn, about the philosophy (and make no mistake, socialism and communism, are the children of philosophy); but, that's not the same as having a natural inclination to want to study philosophy, or engage in philosophical inquiry, of your own will. If you hate cooking, or are only interested in your cooking class because it's a step towards another direction, you will not know the true joys of a seasoned chef. Likewise, the same goes for philosophy and intellectual pursuits.
To digress a bit, on a general topic, you, may, find yourself thinking something along the lines of, "am I not an intellectual then?" Or perhaps you may think something along the lines of, "it doesn't seem, 'fair,' that I'm not, or can't be an, 'intellectual.'" Now, this, is actually an interesting thought, if you find yourself having it, and actually relates to quite a bit of things; but, specifically to socialist/communist thought. I'll try to make my way back to that. For now, I would say, yes, it is not fair. If I wanted to be a professional basketball player, and I was short, and did not have a naturally competitive and strong physique, that immediately sets me far apart from those who are, gifted, with those things, from the outset.
However, I think this, in no way, means you, can not, be an intellectual; to the contrary. If I was short, portly, and middle aged, but, really wanted to be a professional basketball player, realistically, my chances are probably non-existent. However, coming from an optimistic point of view, I think there are still great treasures to find, in pursuing one's aspirations against great odds. For one, you may find yourself in good shape, after hours of dedicated practice. You may become knowledgeable of the intimacies of basketball culture. You may meet new and interesting people. And in failing, ultimately, to be one of the greats, you may have learned many, great, lessons, of perhaps equal or even greater value, than had you actually attained the goal. So I'd say the same goes for intellectual pursuits. Perhaps along the way, though ultimately failing, you may discover a particular talent you weren't even aware of, and find your self excelling on a path you wouldn't have thought to pursue otherwise. And that's not even to speak of success attained against great odds.
So, how does that relate to socialism/communism in my view? If you watched the linked video above, in my opinion anyway, there is a general theme that goes with that academic explanation of socialism. That theme, from my position is, a theme of, 'it's just not fair!' Now, I won't argue whether or not it actually is fair or not. That's for you to decide. If you're employer brings home a six figure income and the majority of her employees are over worked for minimum wage, it may very well be, quite unfair; perhaps some would even say, unjust. That's beside the point, however. The distinctive element I'd like to highlight, is that feeling of unfairness. That feeling, I will argue, is a dangerous one. How often do the oppressed rise above to conquer their oppressors, only to become the oppressors themselves? Quite often, is the answer. Christianity started out as a cult, of which, members were often put to death for their beliefes. Many years later Christians would wage holy crusades and setup inquisitions.
So, I suppose, the folly, that I see, in socialist/communist thought, and more specifically, practice, is this element of feelings of unfairness. Those can be dangerous feelings. Quite possibly, more often than not, the oppressed, after succeeding in overcoming their oppressors, become the oppressors. If you have a dollar bill handy, take a look at the back of it. You will see a pyramid. I think the pyramid is a very fitting symbol for what socialists/communists refer to as, 'capitalists.' More, accurately, though, I think the pyramid is a perfect example for the average and general human social order. We tend to like, want, and follow leaders. Leaders are the few, they are at the top. Then, there are the small groups of people who surround themselves with the business of leaders. Then, there are those who surround themselves with the business of those who surround themselves with the business of leaders; and so on and so forth.
Human social dynamics, very, very often, tend to order themselves, hierarchically, in the shape of a pyramid. This, I believe, is where we run into problems when we try to apply the philosophy, of socialism/communism, to a, practical, purpose. To my understanding, philosophy is not concerned with, practicality. Philosophy (the love of wisdom), concerns itself with matters of living. It's a very personal thing, equal in it's personal nature to that of, spirituality; and i'd say they both are quite related. However, as with religion, when you take that personal search for meaning, and turn it into a cause, you can get some pretty mixed, and often, atrocious, results. You can get things ranging from prejudice and persecution, all the way up to war, and the extensive killing of innocent people.
So, if we return then to that image of the pyramid, and what it means when used to represent the nature of human social hierarchy in many instances, there becomes a problem, as it concerns socialism/communism. I see socialism/communism as saying, "it's not fair we, the majority, should be stuck at the bottom!" Socialism/communism says, "let's turn this pyramid on it's head!" However, you'll find, if you ever come across a small pyramid that you can actually try to balance on it's tip, what happens when you try that? It falls over to one side! The social hierarchy is instantly restored! An actual, real pyramid, like social hierarchy, has a center of mass; and due to it's shape, due to the nature of social dynamics, always tends to right itself.
And this, I would argue, is why socialism/communism, in, practice, at least on the national levels, usually ends with, the propping up of a dictator; and with that, varying degrees of tyranny different people may or may not be subject to. That's not to say other societies don't have their darker under bellies; but, that hardly excuses either one of them. After the power hierarchy is up ended, it inevitably has to return to it's center of gravity, and when it does so, it historically and presently, tends to right itself into fascism/dictatorship/tyranny; while masquerading as socialism/communism. This to me, is not a, failure, of socialism/communism. Remember, socialism/communism, is just a, philosophy. The failure is in trying to make a, practical, application of the philosophy. The failure is in trying to put a square peg in a round hole. To the best of my understanding, philosophy, is not, practical. It isn't supposed to be; that's not the nature of philosophy. The nature of philosophy is inquiry. I can inquire about the nature of the wealth of nations; but to try and, affect, the wealth of a nation, is not philosophical.
If I were to inquire, for example, the reasons behind why some nations are wealthy and some are not; I will inevitably find answers. Some of those answers may be correct, some may be incorrect. I would know whether those answers were correct through further inquiry into their correctness; and so on and so forth, for those answers. If I were to inquire about the nature of wealth as it pertains to individuals, I would also find answers. I would find reasons why some are wealthy and some are not. And I would find reasons for those reasons, and so on and so forth, as is fitting. That is to inquire. Information is gathered in the pursuit of an inquiry; such as, these ten people have these amounts in their savings accounts. Knowledge can then be gained from the information: such as, person A is a carpenter and the wealthiest among them by three fold. And then wisdom can be gained from the information, knowledge, and the experience of what is done with it afterwards: such as, person A seems to not only have worked. They were quite ethical and harmonious in their dealings, they invested some of their money, they were frugal, and they saved diligently. Therefore, where matters of living are concerned, it could be deduced, it may be wise to invest some of what one earns, be ethical, be frugal, and be diligent in saving. So, that, in a poor way of explanation, is philosophy. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, is a process of inquiry; that, if successful, yields wisdom. I couldn't tell you what wisdom is; but, I would say, in the most basic terms, it's generally not, wise, to place your hand on a hot stove.
Now, in the other direction. Instead of inquiring as to what makes individuals wealthy, I decided, I wanted to be wealthy. I would go about things very differently. One direction I could take, from that starting point, is, to inquire what makes people wealthy; so that in learning about that, I might make myself wealthy as well. And you could succeed in doing so. I so no reason why you couldn't; however, your starting position, is, different from that of the philosopher. And you wouldn't necessarily follow the same lines of inquiry. There are a multitude of ways to acquire wealth; some of them are ethical, some are not, some require diligence, patience, planning, insight, luck, etc., etc.. So the method of inquiry, that philosophy is concerned with, is very different than the methods of desire, where wealth is concerned. One says, "I want to acquire wealth." The other says, "what is wealth?"
So this, from my position, is where socialism/communism, will eternally, largely remain not only misunderstood; but, erroneously applied, beyond the scope of it's birth, as a child of philosophical inquiry. As a philosophy, it points out a lot of, unfairness, to put it in basic terms. However, in it's application, it tries to be something very different than a philosophy; it tries to be a practical tool, to improve the condition of humanity. It attempts to make good on a promise, that philosophy can not make good on. Philosophy isn't practical; it can't offer you any guarantees, other than: you may find an answer to a question, with the goal of, perhaps, yielding some common good for man, and thereby improving humanities condition; but, it can't promise that. That would just be a beneficial side effect of the process of inquiry. It just can't promise to do that, without fail. That's why it's personal. That's why it's impractical. That's why some philosophers were put to death by their fellow men; and some are regarded as holy.
So, if you understand socialism/communism, from my position, you also understand why so few understand it, and you also understand why it is difficult to explain. You also, understand, that when applied practically, towards a purpose, an end goal, it can turn into something quite sinister; because, human beings have their angels and they have their demons. You can't have angels, without demons. You can't have good without bad. You can't know what is bad, if there is not something that is good. You can't know what is good, without knowing the bad that makes it good. Human beings are socially hierarchical creatures, capable of great greed, and desiring of great power. We all want to be filthy rich; and upon becoming so, I believe a great many, realize what a great curse it can be. It has been said, 'don't envy the wealthy.' It has also been said, 'more money, more problems.'
So, for me, there is nothing inherently good/bad wrong/right with socialism/communism. It's a philosophy. But to make of it, something beyond the scope of philosophy, that's promising milk before you've bought the cow. Socialism/communism, beyond the scope of philosophy, finds itself in strange territory. It finds itself in the psychologies of men/women/etc.. It can find itself in the laws that govern societies. It can find itself in the politics of the governed and those in charge of governing. It finds itself in economy, and the trades, disputes, contracts, discourses, dialogues, debates, and so forth, required to reach agreements in trade. It can find itself in competition with differing economies, governed by different rules, and differently minded peoples. It finds itself in a great many places, where philosophy doesn't have to be, and often, has no business being. If one man wants to trade a dog for five chickens, what business is that of mine, beyond the simple acts of observation to satisfy any inquiries I may have? To ask that man why he felt five chickens was worth one dog, is very different than to dictate to him why five chickens, are, worth one dog. You can butter bread with a hammer; but, should you?
What socialism/communism, as a philosophy, strictly, gives us, however, are some interesting takeaways. It tells us that certain power structures favor the few. It tells us the means and by what ways some achieve great wealth. It tells us about the nature of industrialized economies. It points out where some unfairness, or perhaps more accurately, some inequality, concerning wealth and power, occurs. And, perhaps, it offers solutions, to these and more; but, as stated before, I think that may be the point where we depart from the nature of inquiry, and enter a realm that is not of philosophy. Philosophy does not say, if the many are poor and the few are rich, do X, Y, and Z. Philosophy says nothing. Philosophy waits for you. It waits for you to ask the question. Perhaps the answer is that, only very few are well suited to managing and acquiring wealth. Perhaps the answer is, the few have stolen much of it from the many. Perhaps the answer is, only the few are lucky enough. Perhaps the answer is, the majority are foolish and not wise, in matters of wealth acquisition and retention.
Furthermore, it's entirely possible for individuals to collectively gather and co-own a business; such that, the workers own the means of production. They can assemble and make decisions concerning the business democratically. And they can fail and succeed based on their collective efforts and all the other factors that concern the success of a business. Equally so, they can be capable of ethical and non-ethical behavior, foolish and wise decisions, and so forth. And that company might do very well for all involved. That would be at least some, socialist ideas, in practice, for a realized common good. Likewise, an entire government, and by extension, all of it's citizens, could collectively own a great many, means of production; but, if we are to inquire as to how well this has worked in the past for other nations, we can not deny that, just as in so called, 'capitalist,' societies, the power structures and the resulting inequalities therein not only remained in place; but, we're often magnified to the levels of great human rights abuses and tyrannies, of varying kinds. At the very least, it can be said, they still had their problems; and those problems were arguably equal to, if not greater than the problems of the, 'capitalist,' nations.
Socialism/communism is a philosophy; nothing more, nothing less. I see no problem with it as a philosophy; it's neither good nor bad. The nature of it's inquiry can lead to further inquiries. These inquiries have the potential to improve the condition of the individual or the common good of man. However, it seems, to my knowledge, to have some strings attached; a sort of, "BUY NOW AND WE'LL DOUBLE THE OFFER AT NO COST TO YOU," sort of proposition. As it's motivation, it markets itself as being capable of something beyond the scope of philosophy. It attempts to promise to deliver something; and that is not something philosophy can do. It defines and aims to deliver, by way of philosophy, a predefined end goal. And as the old saying goes, caveat emptor; "buyer beware..."
There's an old proverb that says, "when you go to buy, use your eyes, not your ears." Are you hearing equality, wealth, an end to greed, and an end to oppressive power structures? I think that, sounds, nice myself. However, what do you see? What's actually there? For me, when I hear healthcare should be a right; I like what I hear. What do I see though? I see an entire generation of not only doctors, but good doctors, and, genius doctors that will need to be trained. I see healthcare providers that already suck, and are going to be asked to suck for state directed payments; which, most of them won't want to do. And the ones that won't have a problem with it, won't be competing for patients in any meaningful way that gives an incentive to deliver exceptional care. So, already, you're going to need about 20 years to bring two generations of new doctors into a new system. You'll also need to incentivize exceptional care; something the current system already struggles with. I also see institutional psychiatry becoming a matter of the state, even more so than it already is; which does not bode well for human rights and the self-determination of those considered, mentally ill; whatever that really means.
I see some saying, "healthcare should be a right," and I see those same people not even care about their right to privacy and how it's been and continues to be violated. Rights have to be protected. So, if healthcare is to actually function as a right; we need it to actually function; and preferably, function exceptionally. And if healthcare is going to be exceptional, it needs to be autonomous and patient/client-centric. It will require exceptional doctors and healthcare workers; which will require exceptional schools and exceptional students. That will require affordable or no cost education to maximize potential exceptional student yield (a genius who can't afford to go, or lacks the will to commit to college, is a genius doctor that never happened); and we'll need exceptional parenting from exceptional parents; and we'll need healthy children with access to exceptional opportunities. How do you accomplish all that in two or four years? You don't and you couldn't.
So what I see is a promise to deliver something, with absolutely no clear plan on, how, to deliver it not only in a meaningful and impactfull way; but, an exceptional, and worthwhile way. And for me, despite all that, I still think it'd be great if healthcare was a right, along with higher education, and vigorously defended rights at that! I just don't see anyone, really coming together to create that kind of vision; I just see talk, and legislation that'd probably be best used as toilet-paper, where it concerns those matters, if it really does at all. The laws are like the blueprints for a building; but, we the people, are going to have to build it. So what kind of people will be doing that, if any? Or will we keep all the same institutions as they are, and just shift the way the money is moved around? To me that sounds like going to the same restaurant, just through a different door; and the food there has always sucked, anyway.
Anyway, for me, philosophy is priceless. It may not pad one's bank account very well; but, it also never promised it could do that either. It never promised anything; with the exception, of perhaps, some Truth...
...And maybe some wisdom, maybe...
...What good is capitalism/socialism/communism, at all, if they are devoid or lacking in Truth and Wisdom?
There is a quote, from Marx, that I believe to be accurate, that reads: "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." The quote is stated to be sourced from his work, "Theses on Feuerbach," published in 1888. At any rate, I argue that this quote, is absolute utter garbage. To put it kindly I could say it's a dart that missed the bullseye and landed in some one's rear end. Philosophy is not for, changing the world; though, that can be a laudible goal. Philosophy is to the, utmost, for changing nothing more than one's self; to the extent that's possible, if at all. Through inquiry, the process of discovery, and in seeking truth and understanding, perhaps we, might, change the world for the better. There is no guarantee of this, however.
From my position, my understanding, philosophy is a process of inquiry of which the aim is to yield Truth. There isn't anything more to it; and there is no need for there to be. That's enough in of itself. If you don't agree, go inquire for yourself. Socrates, had only a small group of loyal adherents; everyone else, collectively, wished him dead. Their wish was granted, eventually; he was sentenced and put to death by his peers...
Philosophy is not about, changing the world. Philosophy is about, knowing Thy Self. That's my take on the matter, anyway. And that's plenty.