To the Editor:
Although it may be somewhat late, I would like to comment on the symposium, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy” [April].
My first point concerns the style of Eugene D. Genovese’s contribution. It is a remarkable illustration of the intransigence of Old Left intellectual debate. Mr. Genovese does not address the issue, he asserts ideological belief as fact. He contemptuously infers that most people hold certain false beliefs concerning democracy, capitalism, etc., which he then demolishes. The manner is exactly that which Jean-François Revel and others rightly call Stalinist. . . . For example: Mr. Genovese coquettishly pretends astonishment and confusion at the naiveté of the questions asked by the editors. By this technique he succeeds both in ridiculing the notion that capitalism and democracy are linked and in dodging the issue. . . . He then blithely claims that “most capitalist countries have been undemocratic”—a completely unsubstantiated and propagandistic assertion. Of course, one could argue such a view, but if one is presenting it seriously, and not as a debating trick, one should provide examples. (What we are actually dealing with here, of course, is the Leninist notion of the implicit badness of democracy and capitalism—Mr. Genovese cannot, it seems, help using the terms “democracy” and “capitalism” in their ideological, Marxist sense.) After this, he slips in fascism in a way that makes it seem an almost inevitable outgrowth of capitalism, although he does not come right out and state this neo-Marxist bit of nonsense (after all, Communism, too, is an outgrowth of capitalism); the mention of fascism here serves a blatantly emotional-rhetorical purpose.
Mr. Genovese also presents us with the following sentence: “Who today doubts that the strongest suit capitalism has going for it is precisely the negative example of the socialist dictatorships?” Undeniably, the total failure of socialism anywhere to further people’s freedom and “life-chances” is a strong argument against it, but surely Mr. Genovese must know as well as anyone that the liberal tradition does not rest solely on the denigration of totalitarianism. . . .
Sentences beginning with phrases like “who today doubts” or “as is well known” . . . are representative of a fundamentally repressive and arrogant outlook—they are representative of “ideology” in the sense recently defined by Alain Besançon in his remarkable work, L’Origines Intellectuelles du Léninisme. Ideology is conviction that does not realize that it is conviction. The ideologue in his own view possesses truth. And, of course, the enemies of truth must be combatted with all the means at one’s disposal, including ridicule. The “who-doubts” form implies clearly the idiocy of doubting the proposition that follows; in this way, Mr. Genovese has neatly avoided having to deal with the impressive array of thinkers, from Tocqueville to Paul Johnson and Raymond Aron, whose belief in liberal capitalism has nothing at all to do with the need to attack socialism. . . .
Mr. Genovese’s statement that “capitalism as a world-system is palpably bankrupt” also belongs to the same class of unargued assertion. Of course, capitalism is bankrupt if one is a doctrinaire socialist, but hardly otherwise. . . .
It is also propagandistic to claim, as Mr. Genovese does toward the end of his contribution, that “the Left is purging itself of its most dangerous illusions.” That is what hopeful leftists have wanted to believe ever since Eduard Bernstein and Rosa Luxemburg. It remains a claim, however, as long as the Western Communist parties retain their totalitarian structure, and liberals are justifiably wary of accepting such claims at face value. (Why are we always asked to believe in socialist promises, but never allowed to judge socialist behavior?) By now, we would like to see action, not theoretical breast-beating in the Italian Communist party or, for that matter, among socialist academics. . . .
It is not the liberals who are wallowing in the 1930′s; I much fear that it is Mr. Genovese, who with his tired rhetoric and supercilious bombast is reintroducing a manner and a style which one would have thought impossible in 1978.
The second (and minor) point I would like to raise is in connection with Sweden. Several contributors mention Sweden as an example of democratic-socialist economics. I have lived in Scandinavia most of my life and tend to agree with the interpretation of Roland Huntford (in The New Totalitarians), that Sweden (unlike Denmark) is no longer a democratic society—if it ever was one. The reasons are historical, and this lack of democracy is not only the result of the economic system introduced in this century. Rather, that system was introduced and flourished partly because Swedes have always distrusted individualism and diversity. Sweden is a slick, perfectionistic, and smoothly running society, but that is because identity and perfection are valued higher than diversity with its concomitant blemishes. The power of bureaucracy and of internalized consensus is immense, among the small class of managers as well as in the population at large. It is true that the appearance of freedom in the restricted field of a commercial society remains in Sweden, but the absolute belief in equality of results, the total failure to appreciate excellence or the value of excellence . . ., the suspicion of the unusual, and the hypercritical attitude of the young—hypercritical, that is, of “imperialism” and “capitalism,” never of the Swedish system itself or of socialism—all these aspects of Swedish society should be a warning to those who use it as an example of social democracy. But this is not to say that social democracy per se leads to this sort of “soft” totalitarianism—the reasons, as I noted, are more historically specific.