Statolatry and chaos

I was reading Ludwig von Mises’ “Planned Chaos” (also available from FEE) when I moved to his “Memoirs” some days back. This book is 90 odd pages of rhetoric, an unmasking of the “peaceful” nature of the Welfare State, a critique of interventionism and the “command economy” – a “planned” economy, and discusses the motives of the followers of communism and socialism, including the dictators of USSR, and Hitler. Basically its an analysis of the totalitarian political and economic philosophy. If such material were added as additional reading at the high school or junior college level, I have no doubt the State, which sings paeans to the “mixed economy,” would have an apoplectic fit. I could quote 10 different passages from the book and still not be able to quote everything I want. But then one has to draw the line somewhere.

From “Introductory Remarks”-

The dogma that the State or the Government is the embodiment of all that is good and beneficial and that the individuals are wretched underlings, exclusively intent upon inflicting harm upon one another and badly in need of a guardian, is almost unchallenged. It is taboo to question it in the slightest way. He who proclaims the godliness of the State and the infallibility of its priests, the bureaucrats, is considered as an impartial student of the social sciences. All those raising objections are branded as biased and narrow-minded. The supporters of the new religion of statolatry are no less fanatical and intolerant than were the Mohammedan conquerors of Africa and Spain.

History will call our age the age of the dictators and tyrants. We have witnessed in the last years the fall of two of these inflated supermen. But the spirit which raised these knaves to autocratic power survives. It permeates textbooks and periodicals, it speaks through the mouths of teachers and politicians, it manifests itself in party programmes and in plays and novels. As long as this spirit prevails there cannot be any hope of durable peace, of democracy, of the preservation of freedom or of a steady improvement in the nation’s economic well-being.

From “The Failure of Interventionism”-

No economist ever dared to assert that interventionism could result in anything else than in disaster and chaos. The advocates of interventionism–foremost among them the Prussian Historical School and the American Institutionalists—were not economists. On the contrary. In order to promote their plans they flatly denied that there is any such thing as economic law. In their opinion governments are free to achieve all they aim at without being restrained by an inexorable regularity in the sequence of economic phenomena Like the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle, they maintain that the State is God.

The interventionists do not approach the study of economic matters with scientific disinterestedness. Most of them are driven by an envious resentment against those whose incomes are larger than their own. This bias makes it impossible for them to see things as they really are. For them the main thing is not to improve the conditions of the masses, but to harm the entrepreneurs and capitalists even if this policy victimizes the immense majority of the people.

In the eyes of the interventionists the mere existence of profits is objectionable. They speak of profit without dealing with its corollary, loss. They do not comprehend that profit and loss are the instruments by means of which the consumers keep a tight rein on all entrepreneurial activities. It is profit and loss that make the consumers supreme in the direction of business.It is absurd to contrast production for profit and production for use. On the unhampered market a man can earn profits only by supplying the consumers in the best and cheapest way with the goods they want to use. Profit and loss withdraw the material factors of production from the hands of the inefficient and place them in the hands of the more efficient. It is their social function to make a man the more influential in the conduct of business the better he succeeds in producing commodities for which people scramble. The consumers suffer when the laws of the country prevent the most efficient entrepreneurs from expanding the sphere of their activities. What made some enterprises develop into “big business” was precisely their success in filling best the demand of the masses.

Anti-capitalistic policies sabotage the operation of the capitalist system of the market economy. The failure of interventionism does not demonstrate the necessity of adopting socialism. It merely exposes the futility of interventionism. All those evils which the self-styled “progressives” interpret as evidence of the failure of capitalism are the outcome of their allegedly beneficial interference with the market. Only the ignorant, wrongly identifying interventionism and capitalism, believe that the remedy for these evils is socialism.

Mises says that it is important to differentiate between interventionism and socialism. Interventionism is when the state controls only certain sectors of the economy. Here the costs of inefficiency are still extracted from the end consumer in some way or the other. “The market and its inescapable law are supreme,” he says. Socialism, on the other hand comes in two varieties, the communist one, and the nazi one. The first is where all means of production are owned by the state. The second is where the ownership lies with the people, but the orders, on production and pricing, still emanate from the top.

All interventionism is bound to fail because as long as entrepreneurs have “some” choice, they will make that choice. Thus capitalism cannot be “protected” or “improved” by State intervention – its either capitalism or socialism. And therefore the following, from the second chapter, is one of the most important conclusions of the book-

The conflict between capitalism and socialism is not a contest between two groups of claimants concerning the size of the portions to be allotted to each of them out of a definite supply of goods. It is a dispute concerning what system of social organization best serves human welfare. Those fighting socialism do not reject socialism because they envy the workers the benefits they (the workers) could allegedly derive from the socialist mode of production. They fight socialism precisely because they are convinced that it would harm the masses in reducing them to the status of poor serfs entirely at the mercy of irresponsible dictators.

In this conflict of opinions everybody must make up his mind and take a definite stand. Everybody must side either with the advocates of economic freedom or with those of totalitarian socialism. One cannot evade this dilemma by adopting an allegedly middle-of-the-road position, namely interventionism. For interventionism is neither a middle way nor a compromise between capitalism and socialism. It is a third system. It is a system the absurdity and futility of which is agreed upon not only by all economists but even by the Marxians.

There is no such thing as an “excessive” advocacy of economic freedom. On the one hand, production can be directed by the efforts of each individual to adjust his conduct so as to fill the most urgent wants of the consumers in the most appropriate way. This is the market economy. On the other hand, production can be directed by authoritarian decree. If these decrees concern only some isolated items of the economic structure, they fail to attain the ends sought, and their own advocates do not like their outcome. If they come up to all-round regimentation, they mean totalitarian socialism.

Men must choose between the market economy and socialism. The state can preserve the market economy in protecting life, health and private property against violent or fraudulent aggression; or it can itself control the conduct of all production activities. Some agency must determine what should be produced. If it is not the consumers by means of demand and supply on the market, it must be the government by compulsion.

The rest of the book is interesting if one wants to know what is the difference between communism and socialism, and fascism and nazism, and about the murderous stupidity of Marx and his followers. Lenin and Stalin were no torch bearers of Marxism. They were your run-of-the-mill tin-pot dictators of your run-of-the-mill banana republic. That Indian communist parties, and those across the world licked their feet, only shows that their claim to intellectual superiority, or at least such a pretense, was nothing but a delusion of grandeur, an example of communist kookiness.

I will end with what Mises wrote about the Stalin-Trotsky rivalry, the race for, to paraphrase Marx, the dictatorship of the kooks-

As an exegetic of Marxian dogmas Stalin was certainly inferior to Trotsky. But he surpassed his rival by far as a politician. Bolshevism owes its successes in world policies to Stalin, not to Trotsky.

In the field of domestic policies, Trotsky resorted to the well-tried traditional tricks which Marxians had always applied in criticizing socialist measures adopted by other parties. Whatever Stalin did was not true socialism and communism, but, on the contrary, the very opposite of it, a monstrous perversion of the lofty principles of Marx and Lenin. All the disastrous features of public control of production and distribution as they appeared in Russia were, in Trotsky’s interpretation, brought about by Stalin’s policies. They were not unavoidable consequences of communist methods. They were attendant phenomena of Stalinism, not of communism. It was exclusively Stalin’s fault that an absolutist irresponsible bureaucracy was supreme, that a class of privileged oligarchs enjoyed luxuries while the masses lived on the verge of starvation, that a terrorist regime executed the old guard of revolutionaries and condemned millions to slave labour in concentration camps, that the secret police was omnipotent, that the labour unions were powerless, that the masses were deprived of all rights and liberties. Stalin was not a champion of the egalitarian classless society. He was the pioneer of a return to the worst methods of class rule and exploitation. A new ruling class of about 10 per cent of the population ruthlessly oppressed and exploited the immense majority of toiling proletarians.

Trotsky was at a loss to explain how all this could be achieved by only one man and his few sycophants. Where were the “material productive forces,” much talked about in Marxian historical materialism, which—”independent of the wills of individuals”—determine the course of human events “with the inexorability of a law of nature”? How could it happen that one man was in a position to alter the “juridical and political superstructure” which is uniquely and inalterably fixed by the economic structure of society? Even Trotsky agreed that there was no longer any private ownership of the means of production in Russia. In Stalin’s empire, production and distribution are entirely controlled by “society.” It is a fundamental dogma of Marxism that the superstructure of such a system must necessarily be the bliss of the earthly paradise. There is in Marxian doctrines no room for an interpretation blaming individuals for a degenerative process which could convert the blessing of public control of business into evil. A consistent Marxian—if consistency were compatible with Marxism—would have to admit that Stalin’s political system was the necessary superstructure of communism.

All essential items in Trotsky’s programme were in perfect agreement with the policies of Stalin. Trotsky advocated the industrialization of Russia. It was this that Stalin’s Five-Year Plans aimed at. Trotsky advocated the collectivization of agriculture. Stalin established the Kolkhoz and liquidated the Kulaks. Trotsky favoured the organization of a big army. Stalin organized such an army. Neither was Trotsky when still in power a friend of democracy. He was, on the contrary, a fanatical supporter of dictatorial oppression of all “saboteurs.” It is true, he did not anticipate that the dictator could consider him, Trotsky, author of Marxian tracts and veteran of the glorious extermination of the Romanovs, as the most wicked saboteur. Like all other advocates of dictatorship, he assumed that he himself or one of his intimate friends would be the dictator.

Trotsky was a critic of bureaucratism. But he did not suggest any other method for the conduct of affairs in a socialist system. There is no other alternative to profit-seeking private business than bureaucratic management.

The truth is that Trotsky found only one fault with Stalin: that he, Stalin, was the dictator and not himself, Trotsky. In their feud they both were right. Stalin was right in maintaining that his regime was the embodiment of socialist principles. Trotsky was right in asserting that Stalin’s regime had made Russia a hell.

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  • Ned Netterville  On March 9, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    IMHO, Ludwig von Mises was the most productive social scientist of the Twentieth century, and the equal of Albert Einstein among all the science greats of that period. His fame has been spreading in recent decades thanks to the work of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, AL, which has made most of the vast corpus of his life’s work available to the world through their website ( Much of it may nnow be downloaded free of charge. Nevertheless, and particularly as compared to Einstein, von Mises remains relatively obscure–even among people who have the temerity to call themselves as economists. Unfortunately, unless one comprehends the epistomology of economics, which Mises labored to explained to the world, one will fail to understand the economic science. Because it is radically different than the methodology of the natural and physical sciences, many otherwise intelligent people fail to understand economics because they simply cannot or will not grasp the rather demanding a-priori method of economics. Mises clearly explained and showed why the so-called “scientific (or experimental) method” of physics and chemistry is completely useless for the study of human action, which is what is involved in economics.

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