Utopian Ideologies

The communists who took power in the Russian revolution did not want the totalitarian, terrorist state that they created. Their idea of communism was a peaceful, cooperative system, in which people would work for the good of society, and society would take care of everyone. They believed that a new, utopian form of society and a new type of human nature would naturally emerge, once elites were overthrown and capitalism abolished. But that didn’t happen.

After the initial purge of elites, a small-scale form of capitalism emerged in the countryside. Capitalism emerged, not communism. At first, the communist leaders tolerated it as a transitional condition, expecting communism to break out at any moment. Eventually, they got tired of waiting, and decided to force communism on the peasants.

From the Wikipedia article on the Holodomor:

The “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” was announced by Joseph Stalin on 27 December 1929.[1] Stalin had said that “Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production with the production of kolkhozes and sovkhozes.”[4] The decision was formalized in a resolution “On measures for the elimination of kulak households in districts of comprehensive collectivization” on 30 January 1930. All kulaks were divided into three categories: (I) to be shot or imprisoned as decided by the local secret political police; (II) to be sent to Siberia, North, the Urals or Kazakhstan, after confiscation of their property; and (III) to be evicted from their houses and used in labour colonies within their own districts.[1] OGPU secret police chief Efim Georgievich Evdokimov (1891–1939) organized and supervised the roundup of peasants and the mass executions.

A combination of dekulakization, collectivization, and other repressive policies led to mass starvation in many parts of the Soviet Union and the death of at least 14.5 million peasants in 1930–1937, including five million who died in Ukraine during the Holodomor.[1] The results were soon known outside the Soviet Union. In 1941, the American journalist H. R. Knickerbocker wrote “It is a conservative estimate to say that some 5,000,000 [kulaks] … died at once, or within a few years.”[5]

So, the communists killed millions of people for the crime of being good farmers. And then millions more died from starvation without the production of those good farmers. It was all for nothing. The communist utopia never emerged. The Soviet Union remained a totalitarian, terrorist state until it finally collapsed.

Why do utopian ideologies appeal to so many people?

One reason is that they give their adherents a claim to moral superiority. Morality is a funny thing. Although morality involves the subordination of self-interest, people use moral beliefs selfishly to compete for social status and power. Moral superiority is a weapon in the struggle for power. It can be used to justify taking wealth and power from others.

Utopian ideologies define a moral dichotomy between their adherents and their opponents. The adherents are good, and the opponents are evil. This justifies using violence and other types of oppression against their opponents. Opposing views are labeled as evil deception, rather than debated on their merits. The proof of moral superiority is simple: you want to create a paradise on Earth. This noble goal justifies any means of attaining it, including mass murder.

Utopian ideologies are almost always exploitation ideologies. They claim that people are oppressed by culture or society. This attracts losers to the ideology, because it gives them an excuse for personal failure. The ideology interprets their failure as a virtue. They are morally superior victims: the oppressed.

The adherents are not encouraged to solve their personal problems. This perpetuates their failure, which makes the ideology even more appealing to them. It is a vicious cycle. Exploitation ideologies appeal to losers and perpetuate failure.

How does a utopian ideology explain the current state of the world? By claiming that most social power is in the hands of a small number of bad people. This implies that a utopia will emerge if the existing power structure is overthrown.

I call this the “Walt Disney narrative”. The typical Walt Disney movie involves some “bad guys” who seize power, such as Scar and the hyenas in The Lion King. The “good guys” must then fight a battle of good versus evil, to restore the natural and proper order. After the good guys win, everyone lives happily ever after (except the bad guys, of course).

This is a naive and cartoonish way of viewing the world. But it appeals to people. It is simple, and we grew up on stories like that. A familiar narrative is more believable than a complex, abstract theory. So, it is easy for people to understand and accept such narratives. They are presented as something new and revolutionary, but they are really just fairy tales.

Utopian ideologies also give their adherents a claim to intellectual superiority. By accepting the ideology, adherents have “seen through” the grand deception. By agreeing with each other, and dismissing opposing views as evil deception, the adherents create the illusion of knowledge. Fake knowledge is appealing, because it requires no effort or intelligence to acquire, unlike real knowledge. Simply by believing in the ideology together, the adherents create the illusion that they are an intellectual elite.

Beware of utopian ideologies. They are personally and socially destructive.