Joy of Collectivism

By: 
Al Jacobs

For those of us who call California our home, we’ve noted some political changes since the 21st Century arrived. Although at one time the Republican and Democratic parties vied somewhat equally for political dominance, it’s no longer a contest. The Republicans are now a mere shadow of their former selves.

The Democrats not only hold every constitutional office, but they maintain veto-proof majorities in both the Assembly and State Senate. To make matters even more unequal, the results of the 2018 mid-term elections ousted every Republican congressman in traditionally conservative Orange County. Quite simply, this state is now a political replica of the once decadent Solid South – a single-party enclave.

Under these circumstances, perhaps it comes as no great surprise the newly elected chairman of the California Democratic Party, Rusty Hicks, is a man who need offer no pretense of bipartisanship in his approach to governance. In his dual position as president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, it’s clear where his loyalties lie and from where his attitudes emanate.

Speaking to his supporters at the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco after his elevation to the party chairman’s position, and with more than a dozen elected officials standing behind him, Hicks expressed his attitude in the bluntest of terms. “Coming out of the labor movement, I believe in the collective. I don’t believe in the individual. In order to see a change in the White House, we’re going to have to have a real change in the California Democratic Party, and that starts with us standing together tonight.”

It’s my guess relatively few people in this nation even know what collective governance means, let alone understand how it works in actual practice. Before we get into the detailed functioning of a society based on collectiveness, we’ll take a brief glimpse at the philosophy to which it subscribes. Fundamentally, a collective culture emphasizes the needs and goals of the group as a whole over the needs and desires of each individual. In such cultures, relationships with other members of the group play a central role in each person’s identity.

In collective cultures, people are considered good if they’re generous, helpful and attentive to the needs of others. This is in contrast to individualistic cultures that generally place greater emphasis on characteristics such as assertiveness and independence. Collectivist cultures are also associated with low relational mobility, a term describing the opportunities individuals in a society accept in forming relationships with people of their choosing. Strangers tend to remain strangers more often in a collective culture than in an individualist society.

Perhaps most significantly, in a collectivist society, persons who work at tasks tend to view their accomplishments as part of the overall goal of the group. Individualists, however, tend to feel they accomplish tasks through their own efforts. This latter attitude is most certainly associated with a greater respect for personal self-worth. Individualism is the concept a person’s life doesn’t belong to others. It’s the ideal the American founders set forth and sought to establish when they drafted both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, thereby creating our country.

We’ll now take a look at a major country which operated as a collectivist society during the period 1917 to 1991: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Founded upon the materialist philosophy, economics and politics of historian Karl Marx (1818-1883), the German born author of Das Kapital, these theoretical principals became the laws of the land when, following the World War I disruption of imperialist Russia, revolutionist Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) sought control of the nation. His promise of “Peace, Land and Bread” implied to the peasants a redistribution of land and a fair share of food for every worker. His Bolshevik party’s takeover of the government in November 1917 marked the beginning of a socialist regime known as communism.

Over the next three-quarters of a century, the practical functioning of collectivism displayed to the world how redistribution and far sharing is actually conducted. During the Russian Civil War of 1918 to 1922, the peasantry – 82% of the population – were required to surrender their surplus agricultural produce for a miniscule price set by the Soviet government. As a result, most peasants chose to consume their produce. The result: City dwellers received only half of what had been available before the war.

Following Lenin’s death in 1924, a new leader, Josef Stalin, took control. He displayed incredible suspicion of the peasants, viewing them as a major threat to socialism. With his desire to increase industrialism, he required ever larger surpluses be extracted from agriculture. When the peasants protested their underpayment for produce, Stalin began simply seizing it – this due to his anger over their unwillingness to conform to the collective farm system and the state’s mandated grain acquisitions.

By the late 1920s, those peasants who resisted joining the collective farms received punishment by being given lower quality land and increased taxes. When this lesser from of social coercion proved ineffective, the central government began to transport the objectors to collective farms in distant places to work in agricultural labor camps. By March 1930 collectivism increased to the point where 60% of households were pressed into the system; not even private household garden plots were allowed.

Over the next half century Soviet citizens, as a rule, received less for their labor than before collectivization. As a result, most lost all incentive to perform in any manner. Consider the standard joke, prevailing for decades: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” Finally, by 1991, the system became so economically unwieldy it collapsed, and the affiliated socialist republics all abandoned the USSR. The remaining portion of Russia dispensed with collectivism and now tends to embrace free enterprise.

If, in fact, the guiding policies of the United States will be to embrace collectivism while rejecting the rights and prerogatives of the individual, then we as a people will have entered a phase where the human values we’ve cherished over the past 240 years will cease to exist. As unthinkable as this may seem, there’s a rationale for such an event. The following is a well-known quotation of Alexander Fraser Tyler (1747-1813), Scottish advocate, judge, writer and historian who served as Professor of Universal History, and Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh.

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

A final thought: The fundamental political conflict in America today – individualism vs. collectivism – questions whether an individual’s life is the property of the individual or of the society. If it’s the latter, then the boss of the society will decide how each life shall be conducted. I question whether such a life is worth living. I suspect the persons espousing collectivism gave little thought to it, and are merely parroting a slogan. They don’t realize that collectivism is where reputable government goes to die.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience.

Jacobs can be contacted at al@abjacobs.com.

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