The Face of Socialism

Jan Palach

Jan Palach

This is the face that wanted to be the “human face of socialism.”  Jan Palach was the student who chose set himself ablaze 40 years ago to protest the brutal communist oppression of the Prague Spring.  In 1968 students and others had called for diversity and freedom of expression within the communist system.  The Soviets responded by sending in tanks.

I’m not a fan of self-immolation or any form of suicide–I do think it is better than suicide-murder; but Jan felt it was better to die standing than to kneel.

A kilometer or so further downhill from Wenceslas Square where Jan set himself on fire, in the old square is a monument to Jan Hus, another Czech martyr who five hundred years earlier had been burned alive by the enemies of freedom.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus

The two Jans are heroes of freedom to the Czechs.  The burned face of Jan Palach is the face of Soviet Socialism.

You can like or dislike President Obama’s health care proposals, including an option to buy into the public insurance plan that all politicians enjoy–but it has nothing to do with the horrors of Communist socialism.

I remember about a year ago when the republican presidential candidate suspended his campaign to rush to Washington and vote for the bank bailouts.  I remember the presidents of the auto companies flying their private jets to the Washington to ask the then republican-controlled congress for a bailout.

I don’t really know anyone who is not disgusted by the bailouts.  I don’t know whether they made the recession worse, or whether they saved the economy from total collapse.  It was a desperate response to what both political parties considered a dire emergency.  But it was not socialism.

Does Using the Interstate Highways Make Me a Socialist?

Last weekend I went on a road trip with some of my fellow faculty and students.  We enjoyed passing through parts of six states on the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system.  I was about five months old when the Republican president from Abilene signed the bill that made the interstate highway system possible.

Was it socialism?  If socialism means centralized planning, massive public (i.e., taxpayer) investment, and government control–then the interstate highways were absolutely an experiment in socialism.

Think of how the private economy could have built a highway system.  Landowners could have built roads on their own property and chosen whether to retain the exclusive use or to lease or sell access.  They could have negotiated agreements with their neighbors.

Or corporations could have attempted to buy up long contiguous strips of land and build private highways.  They could then sell access for a profit.

When you think through all the ramifications, it is hard to think of any practical way that private initiative and private funding could have built the kind of highway system we have today.

A little more than fifty years ago our president and congress made the decision to provide every citizen with universal access to travel in every state. They even have interstate highways in Hawaii–think about that!

Acquiring the land did require federal seizure of private property.  Therefore, building the Interstate Highway System was promoted as a military necessity.  The main impact, however, has been economic rather than military.

The internate highway system was a massive project in social engineering, involving a massive public investment of funds–and it has been a massive financial success.  Nearly all of the growth in prosperity in the past fifty years has been directly or indirectly related to the interstate highways.

But now it is time for a new economy not based on the automobile.  Is it time for a new investment in the future?

Money that is wasted by short-sided politicians will certainly be a drain on my grandchildren.  But wise investment in the future could lead to increased prosperity for the next generations.

A year ago I visited the decaying ruins of state socialism in countries formerly dominated by the Soviet Union.  I don’t want any part of that.  But I also don’t want to label any public investment in the future as socialism.  Someone has to rebuild the infrastructure, fund education, and prepare the way for the economy of the future.

Erich Honecker

Hmm–this is a post I started and never got around to finishing . . .  These are some things I collected just a couple months ago, when we were still gloating over the collapse of socialism.

Until 1990, East Germany was locked in the grip of communist rule. When East Germany’s communist government collapsed, former Party Chief Erich Honecker found himself without a job, without a home, without good health, without a pension and without a friend in the whole country, except for his wife, Margot.

In spite of the nationwide hatred of the former dictator, the family of Lutheran pastor Uwe Holmer took Erich and Margot Honecker into their own home to live with them. This act of compassion is even more amazing when you take into account that Johannes Holmer, the oldest son in the family, had been denied entrance to a university because of his Christian faith. In fact, the official denial had been approved by the former Minister of Education-Margot Honecker herself!  God’s Mission Promises

In January of 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall Erich Honecker, the brutal and hated dictator of East Germany, found himself sick and homeless. So despised was he that no one could be found to provide him shelter. They contacted Pastor Uwe Holmer who directed a church-run convalescent center in the village of Lobetal. Pastor Holmer had bitter memories of Honecker and his regime.

Honecker had personally presided over the building of the wall, the wall that separated Holmer’s family and kept him from attending his own father’s funeral. He had even greater reason to resent Honecker’s wife, who ran the East German ministry of education.

Holmer’s ten children had been denied admission to any university because of their faith. It would be easy for Pastor Holmer to turn Honecker away because the church’s retirement home was full and had a long waiting list. But because Honecker’s need was urgent, Pastor Holmer decided he had no choice but to shelter the couple under his own roof!

Pastor Holmer’s charity was not shared by the rest of the country. Hate mail poured in. Some members of his own church threatened to leave or cut back their giving. Pastor Holmer defended his actions in a letter to the newspaper. “In Lobetal,” he wrote, “there is a sculpture of Jesus inviting people to himself and crying out, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ We have been commanded by our Lord Jesus to follow him and to receive all those who are weary and heavy laden, in spirit and in body, but especially the homeless… What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us.”  Creed

Honecker im Kirchenasyl. Gesprach mit Uwe Holmer (British Library Direct)

Uwe Holmer wurde 1955 Landpfarrer und erlebte die Zwangskollektivierung in seiner ersten Pfarrstelle Loissow (Mecklenburg); später wurde er Leiter und damit auch Bürgermeister der Hoffnungstaler Anstalten in Lobetal, sie waren 1905 eingerichtet worden, um Obdachlosen einen neuen Anfang zu ermöglichen; „Hier werde ich gebraucht” war seine Antwort auf Fragen, ob er nicht lieber in den Westen Deutschlands gehen wolle; sieben seiner 10 Kinder kamen in Mecklenburg zur Welt, keines von ihnen durfte zur DDR-Zeit eine höhere Schule besuchen; am 30. Januar 1990, wurde Erich Honecker, der ehemalige Partei- und Regierungschef der DDR, und seine Frau Margot, von der Pfarrersfamilie Holmer im brandenburgischen Lobetal aufgenommen; die Honeckers waren zu diesem Zeitpunkt praktisch obdachlos, weil sie in Wandlitz kein Wohnrecht mehr hatten und keiner ihrer Genossen bereit war, ihnen Asyl an zu bieten; „Vergebung statt Rache” praktizierte die Pfarrersfamilie im Selbstverständnis ihrer christlichen Überzeugung und stellte dem Ehepaar Honecker einen Teil ihrer Wohnung zur Verfügung; im Ruhestand ging Holmer nach Mecklenburg zurück und baute u. a. mit einem Freund eine Suchtklinik mit SOS-Station für Alkoholkranke auf; als Aushilfsseelsorger reiste er von Zeit zu Zeit nach Kasachstan und Kirgisistan, um an Bibelschulen zu lehren; Pastor Uwe Holmer fand es unwürdig, dass die Urne mit den sterblichen Überresten Erich Honeckers zehn Jahre nach dessen Tod noch immer in der Wohnung von Witwe Margot Honecker in Chile steht. „Im Saarland sollte es Ämter geben, die einen würdigen, sicheren Platz für seine Beisetzung finden”, sagte Holmer der “Bild”-Zeitung.  Chronik

NY Times mentions H’s lawyer

  • “The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not removed.” (Berlin, 19 January 1989) (Original: “Die Mauer wird in 50 und auch in 100 Jahren noch bestehen bleiben, wenn die dazu vorhandenen Gründe noch nicht beseitigt sind“)
  • “Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism.” (A rhyming couplet in the original German: “Den Sozialismus in seinem Lauf, halten weder Ochs noch Esel auf“, Berlin, 7 October 1989)
  • “The future belongs to socialism” (Original: Die Zukunft gehört dem Sozialismus) (early 1980s) (Wiki)
  • Candles behind the Wall

    by John-Peter Pham

    Candles behind the Wall
    Barbara von der Heydt
    William B. Eerdmans, 1993
    266 pp. Cloth: $19.95
    [ purchase this book ]

    Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, legion has been the number of studies and theories seeking to explain how and why its end came about as it did. However, few are as convincing as that put forth by Barbara von der Heydt in her new book, Candles behind the Wall: Heroes of the Peaceful Revolution That Shattered Communism. Von der Heydt’s thesis can be summed up in a phrase: communism failed because it was unable to make people forget about God.  Acton Institute

  • Klint Replies and Mom Answers


    I will try and call again later this week. I am running a school that includes driving, shooting, sneaking around in the woods etc. There is a tremendous amount of labor put into this thing and lots of moving pieces all coming together at once, so I am stupid busy and not getting much sleep. No probs though.

    The elections. Hmm, I like Obama and I think there will be a lot of positive things that come from his presidency especially as far as international relations go. My concern is a democrat controlled house and senate to go with him.  I feel that socialism is a threat to liberty and as far as I am concerned it is fascism in disguise, a wolf in sheep’s clothing so to speak. So, having all three houses controlled by people who view government as a redistribution center for others peoples money greatly greatly concerns me.

    As far as “old white men”, umm if we are going to use racial terms to describe culture then it should be noted that old white men are the reason that our country has one of the highest standards of living and has generated the most wealth and the most stable govt in the history of the world.

    The colonial settlers created a cultural blend of entrepreneurship, egalitarianism and protestant work ethic that was unique in the history of the western world  and they formed that culture into a government.

    Those principles should not be thrown out nor should they be mocked by those who do not know history or just how horrible life is in so many other parts of the world.

    But as with any complex system, there is room for improvement.  This financial crises has exposed the flaw in under-regulation. That does not mean the whole concept is flawed, it just means that the system needs a tune up. Its a matter of not throwing the baby out with the bath water i suppose, but im afraid that populist rhetoric and mentality will give the three branches too much power to change the system towards socialism and we will end up like England with a 50% income tax rate and so many public funding programs that the govt can not keep track of them.

    This type of system by its nature can not generate wealth, it only stifles initiative to create wealth or to excel, especially if you know that the govt will strip you of your earnings in order to fund more govt programs that are staffed by people that can not be fired and are not subject to the standards of achievement that are inherent in private enterprise.

    I am, however, excited by the prospect of some real change in environment regulation, because as far as that goes the environment is one of those public arenas that affect everyone and is within the realm of govt to monitor and regulate. I am also happy to have someone that is not in the business of personal morality legislation as i feel that what consenting adults do in their own property is their business and should not really fall within the scope of govt regulation.

    Anyway, we shall see, I know that the Iraqi army guys are scared to death that we are going to abandon them before everything has become stable.

    The changes this year are amazingly dramatic and for these guys it is night and day. Last year they basically expected to die in combat. They almost viewed it as inevitable. Now, they are buying houses and planning weddings and thinking about life other than violence and death. They view Obama’s win with great concern because they think that if we go home now, then it will be back to the meat grinder for them if the Sunnis decide to try and re-take power.

    I for one have spent too much of my time and effort over here to see it fall apart because we decided to leave the job 90% finished.   So, these are my concerns here, and I hope they are ill founded.

    And you will have to excuse me for not viewing the late 60s and 70s from a viewpoint other than tragic.

    I’m sure it was fun, however. At least you weren’t in China or Russia then.   Wow, umm so that’s my rant.   I will try and call this week if my connection is worth a crap.

    Love, K

    Ok time for Mom’s rant.

    First,  while the 60’s and 70’s were definitely scary militarily, i.e,. Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam war, etc.  It also had some incredible leaps in science and humanity.  Space travel, men on the moon, civil rights – holy cow!  As a kid can you imagine what it meant to watch the space program evolve!  As a black person I can’t even begin to fathom their coming into a new era of equality with all they had endured in the past.

    Alright, “old white men” might have been a bit harsh and yes, our founding fathers were “old white men,” but they had a dream and a plan.  I haven’t seen that since Kennedy.  Time for some new ideas.

    As far as socialism and redistribution of wealth, Klint, you’re smarter than buying into that bunk!  Taxation, that we have had since the beginning of the civilized world, is about redistributing the wealth, to the causes that keep a civilized world.

    It builds infrastructure, builds programs to help the less fortunate, funds our entire social structure from the local police, firemen, schools,  . . .  and so on.

    And the problems we are having with the economy, I believe in part is because the government didn’t get involved and put a kibosh on some of the loan programs.  There is a place for government intervention and yes it is a fine line, but it is still needed.

    In some ways we are very similar to the 30’s and the President at that time made some far reaching decisions to turn the nation around that probably looked very “socialistic” in it’s scope, i.e., Social Security, public works programs, banking.  But it worked and we are not a socialist  society, at least as far as I can tell.

    Yes, having a president and congress all of the same party could have the potential for bad decisions, but in the same light it could have the potential for passing some far reaching reforms.  Let’s hope that is the case.  I do understand your concerns about Iraq, and undoing what we’ve accomplished. Hopefully Obama will listen to his military advisers, unlike the last president!

    Ok I’m done, gotta go to work.  Take care,

    love these discussions, can’t wait to have them around the dinner table when you get back!