I had the pleasure of getting to hear Dr. Christian Nasulea speak about the free market system vs communism and socialism in Romania. I’ve been a big critic of capitalism and the American free market system for a while now, and that is based in my understanding of the fact that capitalism is built upon people working to live and eventually being exploited and made to be reliable on a system that will only ever exploit them. I’ve got a slightly less revolutionary view than some of my other leftist and Marxian friends, but I digress.
Under the cut, I will outline some of Nasulea’s main arguments against socialism, and then I pose a few questions and other things to ponder on. I also went into some of the Facebook groups I am a part of with other leftists and I will be outlining some of the discussion that occurred there, as well.
To start, Nasulea mentioned that not only did everyone in Romania during the socialist period of Romania, it went through several stages, though all went essentially from bad to worse. He said that people had only one TV channel, if they even could get a TV, and it was all government propaganda. He went on to say that we need to look at what we know as valid truths vs. the theoretical details of both socialism and the free market system. I assume he means that we can say socialism is great in theory, but we don’t necessarily have proof of this. And, as for capitalism, we get caught up in the downsides of it but, at the very least, people have a chance to achieve socioeconomic mobility that people in socialist Romania did not have.
Nasulea also mentioned that the people in power in socialist Romania had little to no understanding of how to run a government, lied on documents about their GDP/economic growth, killed/chased off anyone with skill or entrepreneurial spirit, and eventually became so corrupt that while people were starving with their rations (implemented in 1982,) the government was exporting food, that the country did indeed have, so that it could pay off its debts.
The picture he painted of socialist Romania seemed eerily familiar to me, and then I remembered seeing the movie The Interview, where all of the markets in North Korea only appeared to be fully stocked, but it was all fake. Nasulea said that when foreign leaders visited Romania, the government stocked the shelves to make it look like there was a surplus of goods when in fact, it was all a show being put on. He even showed us quotes from both Kruschev and Yeltsin from their visits to the United States.
He pointed out that Kruschev, coming from this socialist background, thought the stocked American markets were a facade. Yeltsin, on the other hand, was shocked by how much we had in comparison to the people living under communism and socialism. Nasulea also pointed out that after rationing was implemented in Romania, it became illegal for people to stockpile more food than the government saw necessary for your family to have. While this was going on, the vast majority of food was being used to pay off debts, so much so, that Romanians were left with only the claws and beaks of chickens. Also, the people in government were getting food delivered to them and had more than enough. In one of the groups I posted in about Nasulea’s lecture, it was pointed out that socialism and communism is often accompanied by dictatorship and corruption, and I think we see that very much here.
Nasulea also explained the situation with material goods such as clothing, cars, electronics, etc. He said the government would only allow for production of one type of good, thus shutting down competition, not providing “price signals,” and leaving little to no room for errors to happen. He said that the reason there was such a great lack of goods was because, without price signaling from supply and demand, nobody could tell if people were buying more or less of a certain item and thus if more or less of that item needed to be produced. On top of that, there were usually years-long wait lists for things like cars, and unless you had the money to bribe someone or the political power to move your name up the list, you were left in the dust. While the government way paying back its debts, it was also exporting the cars, effectively stalling the list for years at a time.
Nasulea said something that really stuck out to me at one point. He said, “Efficiency wasn’t the point of communism, power was.” One question that I asked in a leftists facebook group is why exactly it is that communism is so attractive to dictators and corrupt people. In theory, it seems the most humanitarian, but for some reason, the theory has been exploited by power-hungry individuals. I’m genuinely curious about the reasons behind this, but so far haven’t been able to find anything concrete.
What I want to present now is some of the dialogue that happened with some other leftist people, as I find that some good points were and some great questions posed. For the sake of protecting their identities, I will attribute letters of the alphabet to each person.
I posed this:
Me: The other day, my professor had a speaker from Romania in class to talk to us about how socialism and communism will never work, and how horribly it worked in Romania because the government lied to the citizens, everyone ended up poor and hungry, there were no options for clothing or cars or other goods, etc. And honestly, it left me feeling kind of torn because I always talk shit about capitalism and the free market system but this guy lived through socialism and communism and made some compelling arguments against them. What value am I to give statements from people who live in or have lived in socialist and communist countries who have no good thing to say about them? What weight should their opinions hold, if any?
Person A: How valid their experiences are vary on a case by case basis. I don’t know this speaker but it’s important to always remember that the experiences of any individual (or even many individuals) are not constitutive of what a country was really like.
It’s also important to remember that Eastern European proles are very unlikely to become public speakers in the West. The voices we hear about firsthand experiences with socialism/ communism are more likely to be the voices of the petit bourgeoisie by virtue of their greater access to education and resources and who, of course, are going to view it through a negative lens.
Finally, I would just take whatever failures the communist movement has had in the past (and there have been many) as learning experiences. No economic system or form of government arrives fully-formed from the heavens. There will always be missteps along the way. Capitalism and liberal democracy have surely wrought death and destruction all over the world as well as well, but they don’t get blamed for it the same way. Because of the mistakes of the past, we know how to do better next time.
Another responded to this part of my post, “the government lied to the citizens, everyone ended up poor and hungry, there were no options for clothing or cars or other goods, etc”
Person B: sounds like what capitalism is for most people
This became a thread:
Me: See, he said that just because people can’t afford their options, they at least had them. We asked him about that and he said that here, if you’ve got the money you can buy whatever you want with no waiting list. He said that there, if you had no political power, you went on a waiting list for the only car offered and had to wait 5 years.
Person B: so his point is economic inequality is better than inequality based on political power. Waiting a few years for a car vs never being able to afford a new car. I think capitalism loses that oneMe: See, he kept giving arguments for these things. He sais that because of the free market, someone can eventually make money to afford the car whereas wages and jobs were different in Romania under communism and while every person had a job, some had to travel crazy distances to get to work because the cities were closed off to only those with political power and ties.
Person B: The majority of people don’t get rich in a free market though in fact, the majority are poor. Look at the growing wealth gap across the world, and the opposition to pay increases and social security. Romania under communism was probably less of an unequal society than Romania today. Still, probably not a great place to live but the capitalist model hasn’t exactly made the country an economic powerhouse either.
Person C: Imagine communism wins in your country. The bourgeoisie loses its capital. Some extreme right-wingers might even die. Would the ones who escape the revolution, or their descendants, have anything nice to say about it?
Me: I see your point and maybe he lied to us about this but he said his family were working class. His father was a janitor and his mother was a teacher.Person C: No reason to assume he lied. I mean I know working class right-wingers who would be ideologically opposed to communism regardless of whether it affected their lives one way or another. It seems like this guy’s argument lacks nuance. If his main complaint is scarcity of resources, he needs to establish how that is related to communism. If capitalism is so much better at provisioning resources to the masses, ask him to explain why Flint MI still has no water.Me: I never asked about access to water and food. That being said, he did mention that the government at one point borrowed so much money that to pay it back, they started exporting all of the food and tRomaniansans were eventually starving and had ration cards.
Person A: That is true. The government borrowed too much from the West in the 70s in order to sustain the economic growth they had in the 50s and 60s. The problem is that there was really no need to sustain that growth; growth for the sake of growth is an attribute of capitalism. You could make the argument that Romania became in the 70s “state capitalism” rather than socialism.
Person D: My grandparents defected from Hungary after ’53, and they talked a lot of shit about the USSR. Seemed like, for them, communism and Russian political influence were identical.
It would be like “communism doesn’t work, if you didn’t speak Russian you couldn’t get approval for a car” without really separating the two ideas.Person C: Exactly. They conflate separate issues often because they don’t even have an idea of what communism actually is, and are unable to establish a sensible causality as a result. It’s like, “X condition exists in Y state which happens to call itself communism, therefore X condition must be a result of the ideology of communism itself.” It isn’t true.
Me: But if we keep telling people that Communism is different, or that people need to look at communism in theory rather than what has failed about it when implemented by the wrong people, then eventually we look like we’re ignoring what people perceive as facts.
“The great American pretense is that communism is to blame for bread lines in Havana but capitalism isn’t to blame for poverty in Detroit. “
Person F: There’s also the fact that Romania was one of the really problematic socialist countries. Ceausescu was a shitlord. There’s a very good reason there are a ton more anti-communists in Romania than most ex socialist countries. They associate socialism and communism with his regime, and therefore hate it.
The best I can think to do is try to counter by showing it wasn’t like that everywhere, while still acknowledging the awfulness suffered by the Romanian people.
Person G made a point I believe I brought up earlier
Person G: my personal opinion is that communism is good but has not yet been implemented properly, and what people are actually complaining about is the dictatorship and corruption that unfortunately seems to historically accompany communism.
Person G: I think that when capitalism starts to hurt a country really bad, prospective dictators come in with the promise of communism, then take control under the guise of something great. Kind of like how p*dos often seek jobs in teaching or priesthood to give them easier access to victims. It’s not that being a priest or a teacher is inherently wrong, it’s that bad people can take advantage of it. Of course, that’s not a very good analogy, because a horrific crime like that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but you get what I mean
Person H: I always like to turn this argument around on them; they may have grown up in a “communist country” and “know what it’s like,” but by the same token, I grew up in a capitalist country and I know what that’s like. Is he really going to go so far as to say that a life in inner-city Baltimore or rural Mississippi is worse than socialist Romania? It’s easy to compare socialism at its worse to capitalism at its most luxurious, but the task becomes a little more fraught if you actually want to be honest about it.Me: I think the problem is that people want to argue that we have never truly seen socialism at its best, and thus maybe there isn’t a “best” to be seen.