By Kristian Niemietz

Socialism is popular in the UK – not just among students, but also among people in their 30s and 40s. This is confirmed by survey after survey. Surveys also show that support for socialism in general terms is matched by support for a broad range of individual policies that could reasonably be described as socialist.

Socialism is strangely impervious to refutation by real-world experience. Over the past hundred years, there have been more than two dozen attempts to build a socialist society, from the Soviet Union to Maoist China to Venezuela. All of them have ended in varying degrees of failure. But, according to socialism’s adherents, that is only because none of these experiments were “real socialism”.

Socialism: The Failed Idea that Never Dies documents the history of this, by now, standard response. It shows how the claim of fake socialism is only ever made after the event. As long as a socialist project is in its prime, almost nobody claims that it is not real socialism.

On the contrary, virtually every socialist project in history has gone through a honeymoon period, during which it was enthusiastically praised by prominent Western intellectuals. It was only when their failures became too obvious to deny that they got retroactively reclassified as “not real socialism”.


Table of Contents of Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies

  1. The enduring appeal of socialism (Introduction: socialism is popular / The pervasiveness of socialist assumptions / Socialism and social democracy / A lazy straw man? / Not for a lack of trying / The straw men that were once alive)
  2. The Soviet Union under Stalin: ‘A whole nation marched behind a vision’ (Soviet socialism / Stalin’s pilgrims / Remnants of Soviet apologetics today / Conclusion)
  3. China under Mao Tse-Tung: ‘A revolutionary regime must get rid of a certain number of individuals that threaten it’ (Maoist socialism / Mao’s pilgrims / Remnants of Maoist apologetics today / Conclusion)
  4. Cuba under Fidel Castro: ‘The beginning of building the new man’ (¡Hasta Siempre, Comandante! / Castro’s pilgrims / Why is Cuba different?)
  5. North Korea under Kim Il Sung: ‘A messiah rather than a dictator’ (North Korean socialism / Kim Il Sung’s pilgrims / Remnants of North Korea apologetics today)
  6. Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge: ‘The kingdom of justice
  7. Albania under Enver Hoxha: ‘The working class is in power’
  8. East Germany under the SED: ‘The organised might of the working class’ (East German socialism / Western admirers of the GDR: the early years / Western admirers of the GDR: the later years / Remnants of GDR apologetics today / A note on pro-GDR revisionism)
  9. Venezuela under Hugo Chávez: ‘A different,and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism’ (Socialism of the twenty-first century / Chávez’s pilgrims / After the zenith / Coming full circle / The aftermath: not real socialism – again)
  10. Why socialist ideas persist (Haidt’s social intuitionist model and Caplan’s theory of ‘rational irrationality’ / Intuitive anti-capitalism, or anti-capitalism as a default position / The Gary Lineker fallacy / Conclusion)
  11. Epilogue - An alternative history: real socialism is being tried

About Kristian Niemietz

Kristian NiemietzKristian Niemietz is the Head of Political Economy of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a British free market think tank (see below). He is also a Fellow of the Age Endeavour Fellowship. Kristian studied Economics at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Universidad de Salamanca, graduating in 2007 as Diplom-Volkswirt (≈MSc in Economics). During his studies, he interned at the Central Bank of Bolivia (2004), the National Statistics Office of Paraguay (2005), and at the IEA (2006). In 2013, he completed a PhD in Political Economy at King’s College London. Kristian previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Berlin-based Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF), and at King's College London, where he taught Economics throughout his postgraduate studies. He is a regular contributor to various journals in the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

About the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)

According to its website, "The IEA is the UK’s original free-market think-tank, founded in 1955. Our mission is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. Given the current economic challenges facing Britain and the wider global environment, it is more vital than ever that we promote the intellectual case for a free economy, low taxes, freedom in education, health and welfare and lower levels of regulation. The IEA also challenges people to think about the correct role of institutions, property rights and the rule of law in creating a society that fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and the efficient use of environmental resources."