What Went Wrong With the World-wide Socialist Revolutions?

by L. Reichard White
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

With “the Withering Away of the State” as the explicit goal, the world-wide socialist revolutions in the early decades of the 20th Century had the right idea. Instead, they nearly all ended up with the most repressive murderous totalitarian states in human history. What went wrong?

They made at least two major mistakes, both relevant today. The first is obvious to nearly everyone except modern establishment economists.

1. The socialists didn’t understand the necessity of private property, trade, markets, competition, and so-called “profit” — especially among strangers — to discourage waste, motivate technological evolution and thus prosperity — and to constantly guide production into what folks will voluntarily trade for as the world changes and evolves.

The second major mistake the socialists made is more subtle — and it’s not just socialists that make it.

A small percentage of humans are genetic throwbacks to our hierarchical relatives (baboons, gorillas, chimps, etc.) — and their genes often cause some of them to lie, cheat, steal, intimidate, and sometimes murder their way into hierarchical power positions. Some of us are aware this is characteristic of modern societies but have come to think that’s normal. It isn’t.

In our small ancestral groups, this tendency was well-known. Folks with hierarchical tendencies were explicitly recognized and kept under control. They had limited value in some situations. Many could kill without compunction and so they were useful in the rare cases warfare wasn’t avoided and in a few other emergency situations – – –

“Read says that groups are delighted to have the aggressive man as a warrior, for he fights well and commands well in battle. However: ‘the precipitate, compulsive individual may be a constant source of irritation or disruption in his own group, where the use of force or the threat to use force is proscribed under the ideal of group consensus.'”
–Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest[italics emphasis added]

Others of this type, lacking a debilitating level of compassion — and thus capable of objectivity in the face of injury and death — could doctor folks without being overwhelmed by PTSD. And so forth.

In extreme cases, however, our ancestors would take extreme measures. As Shawnee/Renape Steve L. explained it to me,

L Reichard White: What happened to folks like that in tribes, Steve?

Steve L.: accidents Rick…’accidents’ usually by someone in their own clan to avoid clan justice stuff

Steve calls them “wiindigo.” One Yupik Inuit tribe has a different name for such folks: “kunlangeta.” And completely congruent with Steve’s observations, when asked what a tribe would do about a “kunglangeta,” the answer was, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.” We pale-face also have a name that sometimes fits: “Psychopath” — or, a little milder, “sociopath.”

There’s also evidence that a parallel and complimentary distaste for aggression, centralized control, persistent hierarchical leaders and other free-riders is closely related and also genetic – – –

“If we move to the Busama of New Guinea, Hogbin believes that men are actually reluctant to step into a leadership role. The same is widely reported for other culture areas. As inferred from the ethos, such reluctance is itself a desirable trait: egalitarians are innately suspicious of power-hungry individuals.”
–(Boehm 1999:109) 

You can find a much more thorough development of that idea in The HI-JACKING of Civilization, Chapter 3, Hierarchy and Leadership? Not in MY Group You Don’t!

You can see the tension between the wiindigo | kunlangeta | psychopath and the rest of us most clearly in small tribal groups.

Elkin(1940:251) reports that Arapaho mounted hunters in North America expected their chiefs to be strong with respect to whites but humble at home, whereas the chiefs hated their own unassuming role.”
–(Boehm 1999:71) [italics emphasis added -lrw]

On the other hand as Steve L. put it, especially in larger groups, “Vacancys of perceived power end up being taken over by psychopaths. The pattern shows thru out history.” Wiser western observers also recognized the problem – – –

All men having power ought to be mistrusted.”
–U.S. Founding Father James Madison

There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
–Daniel Webster

Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.”
–Robert A. Heinlein

… the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit to it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
–The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

And he [Lew Rockwell] reminds me of what [St.] Augustine wrote about when he talked about ‘libido dominandi.’ …This is the lust to dominate. This is the thing in human nature that draws people to the government.”
–Judge Andrew P. Napolitano

And this kind of control and power is addicting, especially to folks who have the genes for it – – –

Those who have been intoxicated with power… can never willingly abandon it.”
–Edmund Burke

This must be said: There are too many ‘great’ men in the world–legislators, organizers, do-gooders, leaders of the people, fathers of nations, and so on, and so on. Too many persons place themselves above mankind; they make a career of organizing it, patronizing it, and ruling it”
–Frederic Bastiat in “The Law”

“You cannot reason with a dog with rabies, and once a human goes wiindigo there isnt any record of one being ‘reasoned’ back into being human….”
–Steve L.

And they’re sneaky about it – – –

In order to become the master, the politician poses as a servant.”
–French President Charles De Gaulle

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”
–H. L. Mencken

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
–James Madison

This then, is the over-all problem:

“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”
–Frank Herbert, Dune

And if we let them get control, they’re dangerous – – –

And those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task. For, if they are, there will be rival lovers, and they will fight.

And insidious – – –

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
–Thomas Jefferson 

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
–Frederic Bastiat

Fortunately, but recognized only by a few, such folks are a tiny minority. Only about one percent (1%) of us match the clinical criteria for “psychopath.” Unfortunately, because humans are great imitators, when we become part of psychopathic organizations, an additional percentage of us learn to act as psychopaths. This is sometimes called “situational psychopathy.” Until we understand what’s going on, that’s enough – – –

Within any society, there appears to be a minority that thinks in terms of power and measures the worth of all actions in terms of whether they increase the personal reach of the actors and increase their capacity for control. This is why practically every society of any size is hierarchical, and why hierarchy is never eliminated, only replaced by a different hierarchy — the same wine in a new bottle.”
–Steven Yates

Embedded in that quote is another recognition of the group-size connection to the problem — “practically every society of any size is hierarchical.”

Unlike our smaller ancestral groups, sooner or later larger groups nearly always get hijacked by hierarchical wiindigos. And then stay that way. Which is why the socialist states didn’t wither away. This also seems to be what’s going wrong with the world-wide “Arab Spring” as well as “Occupy,” and “Tea Party” revolutions so far.

The underlying and mostly unrecognized reason is almost certainly Dunbar’s number. In essence, Dunbar’s number is the theoretical number of folks who can keep in loose face-to-face contact over time and so know each other reasonably well. Well enough, for example, to recognize their wiindigo brothers and keep them under control.

Once groups larger than Dunbar’s number develop — or are imagined into existence — as the size increases, it gets easier for the hierarchically inclined “wiindigos” to hide their true nature, gather a group of like-minded thugs and/or pull a De Gaulle.

Once this change occurs, sometimes called a “Great Transition,” the character of society begins to morph into the hierarchical mold. Not surprisingly, given the character of psychopaths, exploitation, violence and murder are integral to the result – – –

“States are violent institutions. States are violent to the extent that they’re powerful is roughly accurate.”
–Noam Chomsky

“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.”
–Mohandas K. Gandhi 

The difference between the two modes of civilization is profound:

“I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate.”
–Thomas Jefferson

Since most of us lack the genes to kill without compunction, etc., folks who become “situational psychopaths” by imitating the wiindigo often suffer serious personal consequences – – –  

WWII vet still suffers from killing German soldier
‘Story Corp,’ Democracy NOW!, July 4, 2006

They used to call it “shell shock.” These days that’s part of what they call PTSDPost Traumatic Stress Disorder — and, because 99% of us aren’t wiindigos, a large percentage of soldiers suffer from it.

And there are more subtle costs as well – – –

“In The Constant Gardener, in particular, it was quite extraordinary to go to Basel, to get among the young pharmaceutical executives in a private way, promise them that I would never divulge their names, and listen to them pouring out their rage against the work they were doing, at the people who were making them do it. But they were still taking the penny, and they were still doing what they were doing. They were still contributing to the invention of diseases.”
–John le Carré

There are solutions.

Some groups — The Amish, Hutterites, etc. — have cultural solutions to the size problem: They automatically divide in two when there are too many folks in a group.

Ivan, an Amish friend, told me the critical size for his group was 25 families. When I asked him why they split at that size, after a moment or two of thought, he told me he didn’t know, it was just what they did. Tradition. The Bruderhof, a Hutterite sect, has a similar tradition. Etc.

Remember the last Amish War? I didn’t think so.

As Thomas Carlisle is often given credit for observing, “Revolutions are started by idealists, carried out by fanatics and later hijacked by scoundrels.”

Ultimately, in the case of the world-wide socialist revolutions, the small-group notion of no hierarchists and/or permanent leaders — and the explicit idea of “the withering away of the state” — most likely lulled folks into a false sense of security. This opened up the last phase of their revolutions to immediate occupation by scoundrels like Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong-il, Pol-Pot, etc. And like the good psychopaths they were, they took immediate possession.

And that’s the second main answer to “What Went Wrong With The World-wide Socialist Revolutions.” In a nut-shell, like this:

2. They didn’t realize a small percentage of humans were genetic throwbacks to our hierarchical relatives (baboons, groillas, chimps, etc.) — and that their genes would often cause some of them to lie, cheat, steal, intimidate, and sometimes murder their way into power positions in any large organization and from there, try to increase its size and shape it to their subliminal atavistic hierarchical genetic specifications.

Under the cover and context of “The Withering Away of The State,” the process was just faster and easier to see than with regular governments.

When things are perceived to be dangerous, are happening quickly, and we don’t understand what’s going on, we feel “insecure.” We call one of the more common such conditions an “emergency.”

Under such conditions, we are susceptible to being controlled, that is “led,” by someone who “presents,” in the poker sense, confidence. Perhaps someone who “means to be master” — and has thoroughly practiced presenting “confidence” — in the poker sense — no matter the true circumstances. Our automatic reaction is likely genetic.

Emergencies” are thus the most common conditions under which we are vulnerable to being controlled and hijacked by wiindigos. Which is why hierarchical organizations, especially governments, have an affinity for such situations, and may sometimes even create a few for themselves. Some of these are “false flag” operations. Operation Northwoods is perhaps the most well known and perhaps a template for subsequent such operations.

You’ve heard the phrase: “The president declared a state of emergency.” And, no doubt, you’ll hear it again.

There are three main assumptions we have to believe to keep us in thrall to these violent, parasitic hierarchical organizations and to allow them to continue to indebt and rob us, our kids, grand kids, and the yet unborn, unopposed, at the point of the tax-man’s gun:

1. Unrealistically large groups are necessary — or at least desirable — and the best way to delineate them is by drawing boundaries on maps, turning them into borders on the ground, and claiming the right to tax and control all who live within those boundaries.

2. We need to homogenize these large groups once we imagine them into existence, normally by forcing the children to waste long years in government schools.

3. The best way to structure and control these groups — and rip them off — is with one-size-fits-all government, preferably disguised as majority-rules, “winner-takes-all” democracy.

None of these assumptions are true.

Now here’s the good news: This is what happens when the psychopaths are once again controlled – – –

Hierarchy creates a destructive force
Dr. Robert Sapolsky

For updates and corrections, see What Went Wrong With the World-wide Socialist Revolutions — updates & corrections.


L. Reichard White [send him mail] taught physics, designed and built a house, ran for Nevada State Senate, served two terms on the Libertarian National Committee, managed a theater company, etc. For the last few decades, he’s supported his writing habit by beating casinos at their own games. His hobby, though, is explaining things he wishes someone had explained to him. You can find a few of his other explanations listed here.

Reprinted from LewRockwell.com for February 27, 2016

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