The Socialist Phenomenon, by Igor Shafarevich
Igor Shafarevich has written this book as an examination of socialism, from antiquity to the present age. Who is Igor Shafarevich?
Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich (3 June 1923 – 19 February 2017) was a Russian mathematician who contributed to algebraic number theory and algebraic geometry. He wrote books and articles that criticize socialism, and was an important dissident during the Soviet regime.
Shafarevich's book The Socialist Phenomenon, which was published in the US by Harper & Row in 1980, analyzed numerous examples of socialism, from ancient times, through various medieval heresies, to a variety of modern thinkers and socialist states. From these examples he claimed that all the basic principles of socialist ideology derive from the urge to suppress individuality.
Shafarevich introduces a concept that I have not read elsewhere, the concept of chiliastic socialism:
Chiliasm: the doctrine of Christ's expected return to reign on earth for 1000 years; millennialism.
The Foreword is written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He offers:
It seems that certain things in this world simply cannot be discovered without extensive experience.
The ideal of socialism butts up against the reality of socialism; Solzhenitsyn suggests that only those who have lived it can understand it. Something for those who dream, unbelievably, of a socialist utopia sadly are unable to grasp.
Shafarevich points out with great precision both the cause and the genesis of the first socialist doctrines, which he characterizes as reactions: Plato as a reaction to Greek culture, and the Gnostics as a reaction to Christianity. They sought to counteract the endeavor of the human spirit to stand erect.
Shafarevich offers that the twentieth century represents merely the beginning of a profound crisis: “a radical shift in the course of history.” While he previously felt that the transition during the twentieth century was akin to the transition from the Middle Ages, he has been swayed to a different view, one that sees this as a transition from the 3,000 year period that began with the iron age.
Shafarevich describes the root of socialism:
We see concealed in Marx’s Hegelian phraseology and Aristophanes’ buffoonery almost the same program:
1) Abolition of private property,
2) Abolition of the family – i.e. communality of wives and disruption of the bonds between parents and children,
3) Purely material prosperity.
His first chapter examines the socialism of antiquity – coming primarily with an examination of Plato’s Republic. Plato describes as the ideal society one which is based on justice”
“…what we did lay down, and often said, if you recall, was that each one man must perform one special service in the state for which his nature was best adapted.”
Society is to be divided into three social groups: philosophers, guardians or soldiers, and artisans and peasants. The philosophers hold unlimited power; the guardians guard the artisans and peasants. For the most part, the group into which one is born is the group in which he will remain.
Property in common, meals in common, women in common, and children in common; education of children handled by the state.
It is difficult to deny that Plato’s Republic is morally, ethically, and in purely aesthetic terms far superior to other systems of chiliastic socialism. …modern systems like that of Marcuse seem much nearer to the caricature than to the original.
It is the system offered by Marcuse, I believe, that is the current version underlying the drive to utopia under which we live.
I am not sure that I will write extensively on this book. Looking through the chapter titles, I see a few topics of particular interest; I will likely focus on these.