Comrade Stalin Doesn’t Know

We are in favour of the state withering away and at the same time we stand for the dictatorship of the proletariat ... Is it “contradictory”? Yes, it is “contradictory.” But this contradiction is a living thing, and completely reflects Marxist dialectic. — Joseph Stalin, 1942

In The Gulag Archipelago Alexandr Solzhenitsyn recounts the first time he was arrested for political crimes. While serving in the Soviet Army and fighting the Germans some casual comment got him arrested. A convinced communist then, he spent his entire sentence in a labour camp consoling himself with one thought: “Comrade Stalin doesn’t know.” Later, when he was arrested a second time for political offenses he hadn’t committed, and was tried, convicted, and again sentenced to camp, he still clung to this consolation: “Comrade Stalin doesn’t know.” After the third conviction, he abandoned it. He only observed that the first and second time offenders around him still employed it.

In 1972 and 1973 I attended the Free University of Berlin. That was the time of great student unrest in Europe. Berlin, even West Berlin, was no exception. Almost everyone was a socialist, and many were rabid Marxists. I naively concluded that living right next to East Germany must embarrass them somewhat, ideologically speaking. Almost daily the socialist heroes of the Volksarmee at the Wall were shooting people trying to escape the Workers’ Paradise. Very few were shot trying to escape from West Berlin into the East.

At the time I was a red-hot capitalist and blind devotee of Ayn Rand. When I got into discussions with fellow students, I had the bad taste to mention the East German skeleton in socialism’s closet. Ahh, but they were not at all ashamed. “That,” they explained to me, “is the perversion of socialism. So is Russia. Now if you want real socialism, the way it really ought to be practised, you have to go to China.” China, of course, was several thousand convenient miles away and hidden from view.

Ilana Mercer once wrote an article that appeared on entitled Lincoln’s Legacy of Corruption. She wrote, “So why mention Enron in the same breath [as Abraham Lincoln]? Well, the system of subsidies and corporate welfare exemplified by the government-Enron incest is one of the pillars of policy that Lincoln—whose birth was celebrated yesterday by some—dedicated his life to realising. Cretinous commentary in the media notwithstanding, Enron's entanglement with the state has nothing to do with genuine capitalism. True capitalism ropes entrepreneurs into the service of only one master: the consumer. It allows no grants of government privilege, and it banishes corrupting interference from the political class.” [emphasis added]

Rogue communists? Rogue Capitalists? By now you have gleaned what these three anecdotes have in common. All exemplify an ideological blindness to the true nature of the system they espouse. All alibi for their system. Why? They seek to reconcile the horrifying fact screaming at us: injustice is not an aberration of their system but its essence. This conclusion creates an unsettling cognitive dissonance. It won’t fit into the pigeonholes of their ideology. For them, the lens of ideology brings the world into focus so that it makes sense. This fact, however, won’t come into focus. By definition and presupposition they cannot question the lens, so they must throw out the fact.


By the time the 20th Century dawned the rising tide of socialism had already alarmed Americans. When the Russian Revolution turned the tide blood red in 1917, Americans reacted. Striving to defend their society intellectually, they fell into the trap of ideology. With the red enemy knocking at the gates, they abandoned Christianity and adopted dualistic Manichaeism. “Capitalism” became the “good” god to answer the menacing anti-god of Communism. That continued throughout the Cold War, and in the process they replaced theology with ideology. It cemented the transition begun with Lincoln’s election.

Before you jump to any conclusions, be aware that I have not become a “communist.” In fact, I am probably the only person in Tennessee who is not a communist, and knows why. Problem is, I am no longer a “capitalist” either. It’s not what it claims to be. In the end I can only find a sure foundation for property and liberty in theology, not ideology.

As capitalist ideology has developed, the free market has become more than a tool. It has become a god. Oh, no, you may object, they never say that. Maybe not, but the free market certainly operates as god in their theory, the substitute for God that eventually dispenses sure justice and brings all things right at last. It is Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” remember? In any event, “free” markets are the very last thing industrial capitalism offers. Not “free” but “managed” trade is its goal. Not freedom of entry, but licensing is its reality.

That said, we still ought to question the “invisible hand’s” benevolence. As I understand that, you take large groups of fallen men, unrestrained by anything but their own selfish interests, and somehow their varied machinations will bring out a good result. Oddly enough, this comes from the same man who complained that no group of men in the same business ever meets without hatching a conspiracy against the public.

Here we meet Miss Mercer again. “Government-Enron incest” is not (as she complains) capitalism gone loco, but capitalism as it is. “Enron’s entanglement with the state” has everything to do with true capitalism. Rather than promoting genuine entrepreneurs, it promotes what I call “government entrepreneurs” (Miss Mercer calls them “the political class”)—men like Enron’s Ken Lay or Ross Perot who become billionaires by feeding at the government trough or trading astutely—on influence. “Subsidies and corporate welfare” form the bone and sinew of this system.


A bit further down in her article Miss Mercer quotes Tom DiLorenzo, the author of a book on Lincoln. I heard Professor DiLorenzo several times at a League of the South Summer Institute, “Total War & Reconstruction.” During his presentation I remember him saying words to the effect that “after careful study it was hard to avoid the conclusion that the Republican Party was founded and run as a shill for railroad interests.” (Mr. DiLorenzo might not have stated it quite as inelegantly as I have, but then, I’m from Tennessee where we call a hog a hog.) Lincoln had been and remained a Whig, pushing Clay’s three fold “American System” of internal improvements (subsidies to railroads and canals), a national bank, and high protective tariffs. A not very careful examination of this program quickly reveals the same recipe used for today’s Babylonian government: rule to benefit the “political class.” Special interests and the law merchant have crowded out the constitution and the common law, and with them, all our rights and property.

Miss Mercer’s comments betray her selective naïveté. She hits the nail square on the head and then denies there is a nail. “[T]he system of subsidies and corporate welfare exemplified by the government-Enron incest is one of the pillars of policy that Lincoln … dedicated his life to realising.” She might have added that only Lincoln’s war made possible the huge aggregations of wealth that became the heart of industrial capitalism. The War created the Robber Barons. Before the War—that millennial occasion for graft—such fortunes hardly existed. DuPont, for example, was a sleepy little 50 year old gunpowder manufacturer when the war began. Thanks to the war, by the first decade of the 20th century DuPont and Imperial Chemical were powerful enough to divide the whole world’s munitions customers between themselves. Like Pope Alexander VI in 1493 divvying up the world between Spain and Portugal, no one seemed embarrassed.


The present system ruling us is not an aberration of capitalism. It is industrial capitalism, its heart and essence and purpose. Big business—holders of unthinkably huge fortunes—forms a symbiosis with government to exploit the nation, the same way moss and fungus merge to form lichens and digest rocks. Or choose some other metaphor, like “Siamese twins” or “leech and leech.” Just don’t miss the point, that unbridled capitalism, exactly like socialism, works to create a state where all political and economic power are concentrated in a few hands. They must exploit not only the labourer, but also the smallholder, that sturdy backbone of the nation who owns his own little plot or business and values his independence. In fact, this capitalist system must always swallow up all smallholders and convert them to employees. There can only be one boss, you know.


What distinguishes the smallholder? Not his smallness but his independence and self-reliance. Whether he is a farmer on 50 acres or a manufacturer with 500 employees, he glories in his independence. Without him, no free republic can survive, nor can property rights. Why are property rights so important? Precisely to protect the smallholder. Indeed, the concentration of wealth itself endangers and will eventually destroy any republic or democracy.

Although its particular and limited application has passed, an ongoing general equity remains in the Jubilee laws (Leviticus 25:1-55). Every seven years, all Israelites who had fallen into slavery for debt were freed. Every week of seven years—every 49th year—all land returned to the families to whom it had been originally parcelled out when Israel entered the Promised Land. The relicts of those laws persist in the laws of many states today, especially in “homestead exemptions” and “right of redemption.” Under the Jubilee laws colossal fortunes could not persist forever, and most men would live and die standing on their own feet on their own dirt.

I am not recommending that we adopt those exact Jubilee laws today, because we are not Israel. However, we must observe their general equity or find even the possibility of independence and freedom perished forever. And when I speak of “freedom” here, I do not mean some trite “financial freedom” of the mutual fund ads, where a generic well-dressed Grandpa smiles at generic Grandma while both smile smugly at their mutual fund statement that guarantees ease for their “twilight years.” I mean genuine operating freedom, although, yes, freedom without cash is dead. What good is freedom of the press if you don’t own one? What good is the right to keep and bear arms if you can’t afford one? What good is freedom of education if the government owns all the schools? What good is the right to property when it remains forever out of your reach, or government at any time on any pretext can seize it?

The whole institutional mechanism of industrial capitalism—The Symbiosis—works to keep wealth concentrated and to prevent any challenge to entrenched power. The tax code (especially the tax code), the laws, the monetary system, the legal incapacity to hold corporations liable (or more precisely, the people who own the corporations), property taxes, licensing, the educational system—all of these represent bribes or barriers. They are bribes to the shortsighted, to prevent their opposing the system, or they are barriers to the challengers, to prevent their succeeding. In other cases, they are merely outright subsidies to big business.

That is the American System. That was the system of Clay and Lincoln. That was the system of Roosevelt and Reagan. That is the system of Bush and Greenspan. It dooms your hopes, and your children’s. What is worse, it buys them off with beer and dope and TV, the modern equivalents of bread and circuses.


the Establishment’s standpoint, is not economic justice or independence for the masses. The goal for industrial capitalism is not and never has been to preserve, maintain, or promote freedom. Its purpose is to extinguish freedom, and economic freedom heads up that list. Its success may be measured by the extent to which it has camouflaged itself and bought off or stifled dissent.

Fred Reed stated it succinctly. “[T]he principle that comfort trumps democracy underlies society today. We have the trappings of elections, … ut what real influence do we have? Can we divert the remotely chosen path of our children’s education, alter or even speak against the flow of immigrants across our borders, question racial preferences? No. These things are decided for us. We can lose our jobs for speaking of them. The more things matter, the less we can say. …

“We can exercise any freedom that doesn’t endanger the status quo. We can live where we want, change jobs, watch pornography, read seditious books and even write them (provided we don’t seek wide circulation), and buy endless things we don’t need or much want. But we can’t speak our minds. …

“Two things allow the appearance of democracy without the substance. The unanimity of the media permits the inculcation of appropriate values … The other is the satisfaction of the drives for food, comfort, sex, and entertainment. Satiety breeds indifference.

“Things could be worse. If you want to read the classics, or teach them to your children, you can. You just can’t get the schools to teach them. Any book you want, any music, any vacation, any sport from golf to hang gliding, you can easily find. Existence is as secure as it is likely to get. Software gets better. Cable sometimes offers five hundred channels, I hear, or will soon. Life is good.

“It is only the important things that are decided quietly, far away, by the political classes who know where the country should go, who know what is right and will, gradually, without any jackboots at all, make us what we should be. "


If neither capitalism nor communism can usher in the millennium, the utopia where history ends, where can we go? The cure begins with admitting the disease. Whether we speak of capitalism or communism, the problem is not that Comrade Stalin doesn’t know. The problem is that Comrade Stalin intends to run things this way, because Comrade Stalin is an unrestrained sinner in a fallen world.

Face it: this will never be a world of perfect justice. “Utopia” in Greek means “nowhere.” We will always have to live with the frustration of the not yet and not fast enough. Without losing hope we have to push for God’s justice as fast as we can, while recognising that we cannot yet accomplish some things. First, however, we must abandon those diseased ideologies that only camouflage tyranny and guarantee injustice.


It is true that capitalism embraces some elements of Christianity, but that is true of socialism as well. Neither ideology is the same as Christianity, however their advocates may exalt them. Besides, both are necessarily materialistic. Both concern themselves only with the material world, so neither can answer all the questions man asks—and certainly not the most important questions. They may tell us how to clone animals most efficiently, but they can’t tell us whether we should clone anything. Since man is a creature made of both matter and spirit, any system that claims to be all-embracing but addresses only one side of man is bound to come up short. When we succumb and pretend that these ideologies do offer sufficient answers, we abandon our Christian duty to conform ourselves and our society to the image of Christ.

As a friend of mine says, these ideologies solve no problems. They all aim at managing problems, not solving them. Only Christianity aims to solve them.

Originally published March 2002