What picture do you need to post online to immediately produce tens of thousands of reposts and comments in China? A photo of a Hollywood actress? A photo of the newest Maserati Convertible?
The answer is: A photo of Gary Locke, the American ambassador to China, with a backpack, buying his own coffee at the airport. ZhaoHui Tang, a Chinese-American businessman, living in Bellevue, Washington, took the picture and posted it online with the innocent intention to just brag about having met personally Mr. Ambassador.
He didn’t expect to create a sensation. But he did. Over 40,000 reposts, and thousands of comments by charmed Chinese citizens who have never seen such a thing by their own officials, no matter what low level in the hierarchy they occupy. Tang explained: “This is something unbelievable in China. Even for low-ranking officials, we don’t do things for ourselves. Someone goes to buy the coffee for them. Someone carries their bags for them.”
Surprise, surprise. You may have thought that socialism is all about equality and removing class differences. You may have thought that Communism – even more than its soft-core version of socialism – would have insisted that everyone in the society, whether they are high or low in the hierarchy, be equal to everyone else, and therefore live as frugally and modestly as everyone else. You may have thought that there are no more lords and serfs, no more masters and servants under socialism. Everyone is equal, right?
The reality is exactly the opposite. In every nation where socialism or Communism have triumphed, what they created was anything but a society of equality. Igor Shafarevich in his brilliant book, The Socialist Phenomenon, demonstrated that throughout history socialism has always produced much more divided class or caste societies than those that it replaced. In the Soviet Union, even after the first years of the Communist revolution, a new class of lords was created, later called nomenclatura. The same nomenclatura emerged later in the Eastern European countries that remained under Soviet military dominance and therefore were Communist. African and Latin American nations who became Communist or socialist didn’t waste time in creating a new class of overlords who controlled their countries with worse brutality than the medieval daimyos in Japan; the firm hold the Castro family has on Cuba is well known. The Chinese Communists just restored the old Imperial system of social hierarchy which was disappearing in the short rule of the Chinese Republic before 1949.
Well, one would say, these countries have never been democratic and civilized anyway, so it is not socialism that created a ruling class, it was inherited. Not at all. Civilized Western Europe, the more it sinks into socialism, the more it develops a privileged class of politicians, family-based (Mafia?) and trained to live off the backs of everyone else. For all practical purposes, even Europe is returning to the social organization of feudalism which purportedly was dismantled far back in the 19th century.
And, if you take the presidency of the most socialistic president America had so far, Barack Obama, you will see the same pattern: For all his talk about helping the poor and solidarity and compassion, he is not above spending millions of the money of these same poor playing golf, living in luxurious hotels around the world for millions dollars a night (the servants need their quarters too, right?), or clearing a beach from tourists in the middle of the tourist season so that their majesties don’t have to feel the presence of the unwashed crowds around them.
To put it in the words of Napoleon from Orwell’s The Animal Farm, “Some animals are more equal than others.”
The “money hierarchy” of capitalism is based on the ability of some people – the entrepreneurs – to serve the consumers on the market with better goods and services. Socialism reacts against it and creates its own hierarchy based on the ability of some people to lord over the population by using raw power and government compulsion. Which is the very essence of feudalism. And that’s how all socialist countries end up with a class of lords who never carry their own luggage, never buy their own coffee, never do any of those little tasks left for the lower class to do.
Socialism is feudalism. With one difference: The original feudalism had to live within its means for there was no source of wealth and subsidies to support it beyond that. The old feudalism died when the serfs refused to work and the entrepreneurs refused to finance it anymore. The new feudalism still has the largesse of being supported by the millions of capitalist-oriented entrepreneurs and workers. Not for long. Just like the millions of Chinese citizens who were charmed by one single photo, one day the serfs discover that there is another world, where serfs can be free, and the lords buy their own coffee and carry their own bags.
That day is coming.